Oceans: NOAA report flags illegal fishing by 10 countries

The foreign fishing vessel Marshalls 201 runs from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Walnut in September 2006 while still in U.S. waters. After the vessel was stopped and boarded, U.S. Coast Guard personnel determined the Marshalls 201 did not possess the proper permits to fish within U.S. waters and contained approximately 500 metric tons of tuna on board. The vessel and catch were seized and escorted to Guam for prosecution. The owner pled to one count and paid a penalty of $500,000.

The foreign fishing vessel Marshalls 201 runs from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Walnut in September 2006 while still in U.S. waters. After the vessel was stopped and boarded, U.S. Coast Guard personnel determined the Marshalls 201 did not possess the proper permits to fish within U.S. waters and contained approximately 500 metric tons of tuna on board. The vessel and catch were seized and escorted to Guam for prosecution. The owner pled to one count and paid a penalty of $500,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Upcoming talks aimed at spurring compliance with treaties

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As many global fish populations plunge due to unsustainable fishing practices, including illegal catch that ends up in U.S. grocery stores, the federal government  last week announced some small steps to try and curb those practices.

Last week, NOAA submitted a report identifying 10 nations whose fishing vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or had ineffective measures to prevent the unintended catch of protected species in 2012: Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Panama, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela.

The U.S. will soon start consultations with those countries to encourage them to take action to address unauthorized fishing and bycatch by their fishermen. Mexico was also identified for ineffective management of the bycatch of North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, which travel between Japan and Mexico through Hawaiian waters, and are endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

All 10 nations identified in this year’s report had vessels that did not comply in 2011 and/or 2012 with conservation and management measures required under a regional fishery management organization.

“As one of the largest importers of seafood in the world, the United States has a global responsibility and an economic duty to ensure the fish we import is caught sustainably and legally,” said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “We look forward to working with these nations to encourage their compliance, and we will continue to work with our partners to detect and combat illegal practices.”

“NOAA’s international fisheries work is critical to the economic viability of U.S. fishing communities and the protection of U.S. jobs,” said Russell Smith, NOAA deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries. “This is about leveling the playing field for fishermen around the world, and IUU fishing represents one of the biggest threats to the U.S. fishing industry. Seafood is a global business, and U.S. fishermen following the rules should not have to compete with those using illegal or unsustainable fishing practices,” Smith said.

According to NOAA, unauthorized and illegal fishing undermines international efforts to sustainably manage and rebuild fisheries and creates unfair market competition for fishermen who adhere to strict conservation measures, like those in the United States. Illegal fishing can devastate fish populations and their productive marine habitats, threatening food security and economic stability. Independent experts have estimated economic losses worldwide from illegal fishing at between $10 billion and $23 billion annually.

All six of the nations identified in the previous 2011 Biennial Report to Congress (Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela) have addressed the instances by taking strong actions like sanctioning vessels, adopting or amending laws and regulations, or improving monitoring and enforcement. Each of these six nations now has a positive certification for their 2011 identified activities. However, a nation positively certified for action taken since the last report may be listed again as engaged in IUU fishing if new issues are identified, as is the case in this report.

If a nation fails to take appropriate action to address the instances of illegal fishing or bycatch activities described in the report, that nation’s fishing vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports, and imports of certain fish or fish products from that nation into the United States may be prohibited. The United States is second only to China in the amount of seafood it imports. NOAA’s latest figures showed that 91 percent of the 4.7 billion pounds of seafood consumed in the United States in 2011 was imported.

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