Feds Seek Authority to Combat IUU Fishing With Other Nations

Coast Guard officials preparing to board a fishing boat. USCG photo via U.S. Government Accountability Office.

A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommends that the Defense Department determine whether it has authority to continue working with other nations to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at sea.

The report, released publicly by the GAO on Dec. 6, notes that the U.S. works internationally to combat IUU fishing.

The Defense Department, for example, leads a program to build maritime security and maritime law enforcement capabilities among African nations, but Defense Department officials told the GAO that due to a change in U.S. law, it’s no longer clear that the DOD has authority to conduct all aspects of this program, the report states.

The U.S. is a member of nine regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), treaty-based organizations of nations interested in managing and conserving fisheries in specific regions of the sea.

These RFMOs have established rules for vessels fishing in their area, including limits on the number and types of fish that can be harvested.

The U.S. also establishes bilateral agreements and conducts at-sea operations focused on strengthening other nation’s capacity to manager their own fisheries and fleets.

Still, DOD officials told the GOA that as a result of changes to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that the department no longer has clear authority to conduct the operational phase of this program, known as Operation Junction Rain.

By determining whether it has authority to conduct this operation and, if not, seeking such authority, DOD could continue to support African partner nations’ capability to enforce fisheries laws and regulations helping them counter IUU fishing.

The GAO was asked to review federal efforts to combat IUU fishing outside of U.S. waters. Its report looks into how the U.S. works with other nations to address IUU fishing, identifies potential incidents of IUU fishing and coordinates its interagency efforts to combat IUU fishing at sea and the extent to which selected efforts are consistent with leading collaboration practices. The GAO also reviewed international agreements and the mechanisms that support this effort as well as other relevant agency documents.

A recent study estimates IUU fishing could cause global economic losses of up to $50 billion annually, according to the GAO.