Pew Applauds Obama Administration's New Focus on Illegal Fishing

Task force will protect commercial fisherman, communities, and the environment

Pew Applauds Obama Administration's New Focus on Illegal Fishing
© Kashfi Halford

A dock worker documents tuna catch in the Seychelles, July 2013.

The United States imports 91 percent of its seafood, and one recent study estimated that almost one-third of those fish are caught illegally. So news that President Barack Obama will create a task force to combat illegal fishing is especially welcome—and needed.

Scientists estimate that, worldwide, about 1 in 5 fish is caught illegally, accounting for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood a year or up to 1,800 pounds of fish stolen from the ocean every second. Illegal fishing, which is associated with a host of other crimes, puts law-abiding commercial fishermen at a disadvantage and severely threatens the marine environment.

The president announced plans for the task force June 17, 2014. It is expected to strengthen enforcement against illegal fishing and improve ways to trace the sources of seafood to make sure it is caught legally and labeled accurately. U.S. leadership on this global problem is vital to protecting fishermen, coastal communities, and the oceans.

“We commend the Obama administration for recognizing illegal fishing as a major concern in need of solutions that will have lasting impact, and we especially thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his leadership on this issue,” said Karen Sack, who leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international oceans program. “U.S. fishermen suffer when illegally caught fish enter our markets from other countries. Illegal fishing hurts people, economies, and the marine environment, and we are hopeful this task force will help reverse those ill effects.”

Tony Long, who directs Pew’s efforts to end illegal fishing, added, “The most effective ways to keep illegally caught fish from reaching consumers are stronger port controls, a global system for identifying fishing vessels by requiring unique vessel numbers, and the adoption of proven technology to help pinpoint—and then stop—criminal activity at sea.”

On April 3, the Senate unanimously approved the Port State Measures Agreement, an international treaty to strengthen and harmonize port inspections for fishing vessels around the world to deter illegal fishing. Congress must now pass legislation quickly to implement the treaty. “We encourage other governments to follow the lead of the United States in establishing and supporting the strongest policies to fight illegal fishing worldwide, including the adoption and implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement,” Long said. “The administration’s announcement today is a critical step in harnessing the full capability of the federal government in the fight against illegal fishing.”