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Will the United States fulfill the promise of the United Nations Ocean Conference?

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UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon offers promise of increased US ambition to tackle IUU fishing and forced labor at sea

USCG boards IUU fishing vessel

United States Coast Guard

The global ocean is in peril – recent studies of ocean health have laid bare its vulnerable state. Pressures from industrial-scale fishing, offshore oil and gas development, habitat destruction and pollution are jeopardizing the ocean’s ability to feed us, keep our planet cool and provide 50% of the air we breathe.

Today, June 27, 2022, heads of state, regional and local governments, indigenous leaders, NGOs and businesses will gather in Lisbon for the United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) to propose and to negotiate solutions to preserve and restore the health of the oceans. International collaboration is necessary given the global and interrelated nature of ocean threats. The United States, as one of the world’s top three seafood importers, has a critical opportunity to support sustainable fisheries by stepping up its ambition to stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. ).

IUU fishing threatens commercial fish stocks, as well as protected species and ocean habitats that support marine wildlife. In addition to harming ocean biodiversity, IUU fishing is directly linked to human and labor rights violations. The United States assumed its leadership role in the fight against IUU fishing eight years ago, but progress has stalled in recent years as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has failed to meet its commitments. previous. NOAA has also opposed opportunities to use US authorities to stop IUU fishing at source and to block IUU fish products from US commerce.

There are three major actions to stop IUU fishing that NRDC hopes the United States will announce this week in Lisbon:

1. Expand and strengthen seafood traceability requirements.

In 2014, the United States affirmed the importance of full supply chain traceability necessary to reduce IUU fishing. Seafood supply chains are long and complex and include many points where legal and illegal seafood can mix. Without seafood traceability, it becomes nearly impossible to link an IUU seafood shipment to an illegal fishing operation, allowing IUU fishing operations to continue unchecked.

Seafood traceability is necessary to enforce the Russian Seafood Import Ban and the Tariff Act, the US law that prohibits goods produced with forced labor or trafficking. Although the United States has a seafood traceability program – the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) – its requirements currently only cover 45% of US imports of seafood, which creates a major gap in coverage and a gaping loophole that bad actors can easily exploit.

To more effectively block commercial IUU fishing imports, NOAA must also make improvements to the existing program. NOAA should modernize the way it screens seafood imports and use artificial intelligence to identify shipments most at risk of IUU fishing. To support enforcement efforts, NOAA should also require as import conditions: the unique identifier associated with a fishing vessel (e.g., Maritime Mobile Service Identification number, Maritime Organization number international), the use of GPS tracking while en route (for example, the use of an automatic identification system [AIS]) and information on the working conditions of the crew.

2. Strengthen US tools to ban seafood from countries that produce seafood using IUU fishing methods and/or forced labor.

The United States has the authority to ban seafood harvested using IUU fishing methods under the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act. has been underutilized, imposing no sanctions against countries that condone and allow IUU fishing, despite the power of the law. To strengthen implementation of the High Seas Driftnet Act, Congress asked NOAA to change the definition of IUU fishing in the act, but NOAA did not. NOAA should quickly change the definition of IUU fishing and should interpret this definition to include forced labor and human rights violations through updated regulations.

3. Increase transparency of global fishing operations.

The opacity of fishing operations is one of the drivers of IUU fishing and forced labour. The use of readily available tracking technology, such as AIS, is one way to inform fishing operations and combat human rights abuses at sea. To demand the use of this tracking technology as a condition of importation, the United States must require the same of its fishing fleet. The US Coast Guard supports the use of AIS because it improves vessel safety at sea.

The UN Ocean Conference is an opportunity for world leaders to make the commitments we need to protect the ocean for the health and enjoyment of future generations. Ambitious action by the United States to combat IUU fishing and associated human rights abuses is a necessary component to achieving this goal.