How the U.S. helps partners tackle illegal fishing

Men handing packages to each other between boats (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)
U.S. Coast Guard officials, seen in January with members of the Guyana Defense Force Coast Guard, are helping partner nations combat illegal fishing. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

The United States is helping partner nations combat illegal fishing to preserve food supplies, improve local economies and protect ecosystems.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently assisted the Pacific island nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau in enforcing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The effort helped partner nations improve maritime security and maintain resources of fish — a staple of the food supply — according to Palau officials.

We “want to build up our own capacity to [be] able to face the challenges in the world around us,” said Jennifer Anson, Palau’s national security coordinator.

IUU fishing often encroaches on coastal states’ sovereign rights. It threatens seafood stocks, undermines science-based fisheries management and puts legitimate producers at an economic disadvantage. IUU fishing also has been associated with forced labor.

Small boat in front of navy ship during joint maneuvers (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)
A crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stone accompanies the Brazilian navy ship Guaiba off the coast of Brazil in January. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

In July, the Coast Guard issued a plan for countering IUU fishing (PDF, 6.20MB) that prioritizes answering nations’ requests for training and technical assistance in combating illegal fishing. The plan implements a September 2020 strategy (PDF, 5.13MB) that called for more targeted and intelligence-driven enforcement, as well as greater international cooperation.

For example, the Coast Guard partnered with Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay and Portugal in March to combat illegal fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. During Operation Southern Cross, U.S. officials practiced radio communication techniques with the Guyana Defense Force and trained with Brazilian officers on maritime law enforcement.

U.S. officials also trained Ecuadorian prosecutors on enforcing against and deterring IUU fishing. In July, a former U.S. prosecutor traveled to Ecuador to support prosecutors in the Galápagos Islands, where in 2017 Ecuador seized a vessel carrying 300 tons of wildlife, mostly sharks.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima launched a social media campaign in favor of keeping illegal fishing out of Peru’s sovereign waters.

In November 2020, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Colombia issued a joint declaration pledging to confront illegal fishing.

In July, the United States donated a patrol boat to help Honduras combat IUU fishing. The boat holds a crew of 10 and has advanced radar systems.

“If IUU fishing continues unchecked, we can expect deterioration of fragile coastal States and increased tension among foreign-fishing nations, threatening geo-political stability around the world,” Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jason Holstead said in a July statement on U.S. support for Pacific island nations’ efforts against IUU fishing.