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How To Tackle Illegal Fishing

More than 2.5 billion people worldwide depend on fish for food and nutrition. In the United States, seafood makes up an essential part of our economy – and our plates. In 2013, Americans consumed 4.6 billion pounds of seafood.

To meet that level of demand, we need a thriving seafood industry with healthy competition and responsible stewardship of our fisheries. That’s why the U.S. uses a smart, science-based approach to manage our domestic fisheries. This approach has made us a global leader in sustainable seafood, largely ending domestic overfishing, rebuilding dozens of depleted fish stocks, and supporting near record highs in landings and revenue.

But globally, not all fishers play by the rules. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing undercuts fair competition and leads to global losses between $10 and $23 billion each year. These pirate fishers often violate even the most basic safety requirements, such as using navigation lights at night, putting law-abiding mariners at risk. And their ships serve as conduits for other dangerous criminal activities, including human trafficking. Black-market fishing seafood fraud allows black market fish to enter U.S. commerce, deceiving American consumers about the quality, quantity, origin, and sustainability of the food they eat.

These issues pose a serious threat to public health and to the health of our oceans and our economy -  and the Obama Administration has a plan to address it.

Today in Boston, NOAA and the State Department unveiled the final action plan of the President’s Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. The plan lays out aggressive next steps for implementing the recommendations issued by the Task Force in December, and includes measures to create and expand domestic partnerships to detect black market fishing and seafood fraud, strengthen enforcement, and develop a traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce, beginning with the species most at risk for trafficking. The plan also outlines how the U.S. will work with international partners to address IUU fishing and seafood fraud, including through the Administration’s work to secure historic and enforceable environmental provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Together, these actions will enable us to make tremendous progress in the fight against black market fishing and seafood fraud. Through the traceability program, enforcement and regulatory agencies from across the federal government will share information and analysis to keep illegally caught or fraudulent seafood out of the U.S. market. To start, the program will focus on species most at risk for black-market fishing and fraud, tracking them from catch to entry. The lessons learned through this risk-based approach will inform the Administration’s efforts to expand the program to trace all seafood. Additionally, the Administration will explore methods for making key information – like point of origin and means of production – available to consumers, so Americans know more about what they’re buying.

On the international front, the U.S. will continue to demonstrate global leadership in the stewardship of our ocean resources. For example, in addition to groundbreaking commitments to combat black market fishing, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is expected to be the first-ever trade agreement to eliminate some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies, which can contribute significantly to overfishing. Eight of the top 20 global producers of seafood products are partners in the TPP, and together account for a quarter of global catch and seafood exports – making this agreement an historic opportunity to show progress building sustainable fishing practices worldwide.

As we move forward to implement the action plan announced today, the Administration will continue to engage stakeholders throughout the seafood industry and the environmental community to ensure that our efforts are as robust as possible.  Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is committed to leveling the playing field for legitimate fishers, conserving our ocean resources, and ending IUU fishing and seafood fraud once and for all. The Task Force’s action plan will help us get there.

Brian Deese is Senior Advisor to the President. Christy Goldfuss leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.