U.S. president signs national security memorandum to combat IUU fishing

On June 27, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a National Security Memorandum (NSM) to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and related harmful fishing practices.  

IUU fishing is among the greatest threats to ocean health and is a significant cause of global overfishing, contributing to the collapse or decline of fisheries that are critical to the economic growth, food systems, and ecosystems of numerous countries around the world.  

Distant water fishing vessels, which engage in industrial-scale fishing operations on the high seas and in waters under other states’ jurisdictions, can be significant perpetrators of IUU fishing and related harmful fishing practices.  IUU fishing often involves forced labor, human trafficking, and other crimes and human rights abuses.  

Left unchecked, IUU fishing and associated labor abuses undermine U.S. economic competitiveness, national security, fisheries sustainability, and the livelihoods and human rights of fishers around the world and will exacerbate the environmental and socioeconomic effects of climate change.

The Biden Administration will address IUU fishing by increasing coordination with diverse stakeholders — public and private, foreign and domestic.  The United States Government will use the full range of existing conservation, labor, trade, economic, diplomatic, law enforcement, and national security authorities to address these challenges, including:

  • Promoting labor rights, human rights, and fundamental freedoms through worker-centered trade policies and working to ensure that supply chains are free from forced labor, including by engaging with international institutions and trade partners to address forced labor and other abusive labor practices in IUU fishing;
  • Collaborating within international organizations, including regional bodies, and partnering with stakeholders from governments, civil society, and the private sector, to increase global attention on the challenges of IUU fishing, including by distant water fishing vessels, and related abusive labor practices, such as the use of forced labor in seafood supply chains; and
  • Combatting abuses and strengthening incentives for ethical behavior in the global seafood industry, including by limiting the market for products derived from IUU fishing, forced labor, or other abusive labor practices.

The Biden-Harris Administration is also taking the following actions to combat IUU fishing.

  • The United States, the UK, and Canada will launch an IUU Fishing Action Alliance aimed at increasing ambition and momentum in the fight against IUU fishing, including a pledge to take urgent action to improve the monitoring, control, and surveillance of fisheries, increase transparency in fishing fleets and in the seafood market, and build new partnerships that will hold bad actors accountable.
  • The U.S. Interagency Working Group on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing, comprising 21 federal agencies, will release its National Five-Year Strategy for Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (2022-2026) by the end of July.  The strategy prioritizes the Working Group’s efforts to combat IUU fishing, curtail the global trade of IUU fish and fish products, and promote global maritime security, while working in partnership with other governments and authorities, the seafood industry, academia, and non-governmental stakeholders.  The United States will engage with priority partners, including Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan, and Vietnam.  
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will also issue a proposed rule to enhance and strengthen its ability to address IUU fishing activities and combat forced labor in the seafood supply chain.  Specifically, the rule will enhance NOAA’s ability to implement the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act.  The rule proposes to broaden the scope of activities that NOAA can consider when identifying nations that engage in IUU fishing to include fishing in waters under the jurisdiction of a nation, without the permission of that nation, or in violation of its laws and regulations.  This will ensure consistency with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. 

Photo credit: iStock/ Irenadragan

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