New Bipartisan Bills Take on Foreign Illegal Fishing


John Briley: 202.257.7664,
Dave Bard: 202.778.4451,


The crew of the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro monitors the Bangun Perkasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing Sept. 9, 2011. A Munro boarding team determined the vessel had more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses on board.

Recognizing the growing threat posed by foreign illegal fishing, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Senator Lisa Murkowski and 8 co-sponsors on Feb. 11 introduced two important bills—the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act and the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act—that would safeguard U.S. ports, strengthen enforcement, and protect American fishing interests. This follows introduction last month in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of companion legislation to the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act; that bill has eight cosponsors representing the East Coast, Caribbean and Pacific States and Territories.

"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing spans the globe, threatening legitimate fishing operations, undermining sustainable fisheries management, and stealing a vital resource from needy communities and the world economy," said Tony Long, who heads The Pew Charitable Trusts' efforts to end illegal fishing around the world. "This is a strong statement from Congress, and we fully support the U.S. in its efforts to fight large-scale fisheries crimes."

Criminal fishing worldwide is estimated to take $10 billion to $23.5 billion worth of seafood annually, or 11 million to 26 million tonnes of fish—three to six times more fish than the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry catches legally every year.1

Vessels involved in illegal fishing often commit additional crimes, from drug and arms smuggling to human trafficking, according to enforcement experts. By passing these two bills, Congress would send a strong message that the United States will not tolerate crime on the high seas and that it is committed to protecting U.S. fishermen who play by the rules.

"Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing spans the globe, threatening legitimate fishing operations, undermining sustainable fisheries management, and stealing a vital resource from needy communities and the world economy."

- Tony Long

The International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act would:

  • Expand the authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate, apprehend, and sanction violators for fisheries crimes committed outside U.S. waters. 
  • Establish consistent protocols amongst all international fisheries statutes to simplify enforcement and regulations. This will streamline enforcement and level the playing field for U.S. fishermen that abide by the rules. 
  • Authorize a centralized list of illegal vessels—and their owners—to help track criminal fishing activity. This would allow the United States to deny port access and otherwise penalize vessels engaged in illegal fishing. 
  • Promote interagency cooperation among U.S. agencies engaged in fisheries enforcement, improving overall efficiency and effectiveness.

The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act would implement the Port States Measures Agreement, a treaty designed to prevent vessels identified as having been engaged in illegal fishing from entering ports all over the world. Closing ports and denying port services such as refueling and resupplying to known criminal fishers makes illegal fishing riskier and more expensive. Specifically, the act would:

  • Protect U.S. fishermen and seafood purveyors by closing U.S. ports to vessels engaged in illegal fishing and encouraging other nations to hold illegal fishing vessels accountable. 
  • Enhance national security by requiring all foreign fishing vessels to submit advance-notice-of-arrival information before entering U.S. ports. This would close a loophole that could be exploited by drug traffickers, human smugglers, and terrorists. 
  • Set minimum standards for dockside inspections and facilitate information sharing with other countries when there is evidence of illegal fishing.

The two bills are widely supported by U.S. commercial fishers and conservation organizations, and both have strong bipartisan support. We urge Congress to pass these bills to allow the United States to crack down on illegal fishing on the high seas and ensure the future sustainability of our oceans.

1. Agnew DJ, Pearce J, Pramod G, Peatman T, Watson R, et al. (2009) Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004570