June 5th marks the third annual United Nations International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. Peter Horn, who directs efforts by The Pew Charitable Trusts to end illegal fishing as part of the organization’s international fisheries program, spoke to three of his Pew colleagues: Gina Fiore, who focuses on maritime security and fisheries crime; Tahiana Fajardo, who works with governments, enforcement authorities, and the seafood industry to adopt regulations and policies to prevent IUU; and Alyson Kauffman, who focuses on reforming transshipment and improving fisheries enforcement through technology.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What path did you take to get to where you are today?
Kauffman: Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to focus on the ocean when I grew up. In college, I decided to pursue a career in oceanography. After graduating, I worked as a satellite oceanographer for eight years, analyzing remote sensing data for fishing vessels, to help improve their fishing efforts. When I got to Pew, I knew that I could leverage that skill set to help enforcement officials target areas where protected species are located, or where known overfishing activity has occurred, in an effort to reduce instances of illegal fishing.
Fiore: I grew up fishing recreationally with my family on the east end of Long Island, where the Atlantic Ocean has always been a vital part of the local economy. I saw first-hand with the Long Island lobster industry how disruptions in the ecosystem lead to devastation for communities that rely on the ocean to make a living—not just on Long Island, but in coastal areas all over the world where people build their economies from fishing. So it’s important for me to try to stop people and companies that threaten fisheries, especially small-scale and the artisanal fisheries.
Q: What’s one thing about ending illegal fishing you’d like the public to know?
Fajardo: Illegal fishing is a complex problem, and the public needs to understand that there’s no one-layer solution to ending it. The solution is multilayered, and involves all States, the fishing industry, tech companies, NGOs, and end consumers; it’s not the responsibility of one stakeholder, one country, or one group. Awareness, communication, and coordination are key, and progress can be made faster if every party takes responsibility for their part and holds themselves accountable.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for navies and coast guards around the world to tackle IUU fishing activities?
Fiore: Being able to see who’s fishing in your waters is an important facet of maritime governance, and a major part of maritime domain awareness. When a country knows what fishing vessels are doing in their country’s waters, it builds better awareness locally and allows for that information to be shared regionally. And as information is shared between countries, it starts to close off ports to bad actors—and eventually disincentivizes illegal fishing in exclusive economic zones. That means improved sustainability, more fish for local and smaller-scale fishermen, and more money coming back into the economy.
Q: How does IUU fishing affect vulnerable fish stocks?
Fajardo: A critical problem posed by IUU fishing is that it weakens efforts to sustainably manage fish stocks. That’s because fisheries management measures are based on data that may not be accurate if IUU catches and efforts are not accounted for, putting stocks that are already vulnerable in even more danger.
Q: And how does it affect the fishers onboard IUU vessels?
Fajardo: Unfortunately, how fishers are affected by IUU is an even less discussed problem, but it’s just as critical—because it ultimately affects their safety and lives. What evidence has shown is that because illegal operators cut as many corners as possible when it comes to increasing their profit, they often do so at the expense of anything and anyone. This usually translates into not maintaining minimum safety standards on their vessels, and terrible living and working conditions for their fishers, which adds unnecessary threats and danger to an occupation already considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world.
Q: What’s a flag State?
Fajardo: It’s the country to which a vessel is registered, and from which the vessel takes its nationality. A flag State ensures proper registration of its fishing vessels and is responsible for having a robust monitoring, control, and surveillance system of its fleets.
Q: So what makes individual flag States so important in the fight against IUU fishing?
Fajardo: They’re in the unique position to control their fishing fleets, which is a critical responsibility. This oversight carries even more relevance for vessels operating on the high seas, where States other than the flag State have limited jurisdiction. So flag States are fundamental in preventing IUU fishing from taking place in the first place—and for enforcing, on their vessels, international and domestic laws designed to end IUU fishing and related illegal activities.
Q: What’s transshipment, and what role does it play in IUU fishing?
Kauffman: Transshipment is the transfer of fish from a fishing vessel to a carrier vessel that takes the catch back to port, and it often takes place far out on the high seas, where it’s difficult to monitor. It plays a really important role in the fishing industry, but it adds one more step in the supply chain, increasing the risk of IUU fish being landed at port.
Q: How have technological advances affected transshipment oversight and fisheries governance?
Kauffman: Overall, the benefits of technology have provided us the ability to have eyes on what’s happening at sea and validate what’s being reported, while also detecting increased risk of IUU activity. For instance, data from automatic identification systems (AIS), which are required on vessels over 300 gross tons, can be used to show where fishing vessels are going. Enforcement officials can review this data to see if the vessels are fishing where they’re not supposed to. However, bad actors can look for loopholes to avoid complying with international fisheries policies—such as turning off or obstructing the AIS to avoid being monitored. Ultimately, technology helps us determine levels of risk and allows us to ask the right questions about what’s happening on the high seas.