Uniformed men in inflatable boat boarding fishing vessel at night (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn)
Fijian law enforcement officers working with the U.S. Coast Guard board a vessel suspected of illegal fishing off the coast of Fiji on April 18. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn)

The United States and international partners are increasing efforts to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to protect global food supplies and the environment.

On June 27, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom announced plans for an IUU Fishing Action Alliance to better monitor fishing fleets in the seafood market, build partnerships and hold bad actors accountable.

“Internationally, IUU fishing is a major factor in declining fish stocks and marine habitat destruction,” said Joyce Murray, Canada’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. “By working together on tools and training, we can better enforce joint efforts to fight the harms of IUU fishing and advance policy.”

President Biden issued a national security memorandum June 27 directing U.S. government agencies to work with international partners to combat IUU fishing and associated labor abuses and promote sustainable fishing.

Two female Coast Guard crew members looking at papers on ship (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class David Graham)
Crew members aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Myrtle Hazard conduct maritime surveillance to deter IUU fishing in the northern Solomon Islands. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class David Graham)

An estimated 1 out of every 5 fish caught is harvested illegally, Monica Medina, the U.S. Department of State’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, told the 2022 U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon on June 29. One-third of fish stocks are overfished.

IUU fishing, which includes unreported fishing, using prohibited equipment or unlawfully fishing a nation’s waters, undermines science-based fisheries management, puts legitimate producers at a disadvantage and can encroach on coastal states’ sovereign rights.

To combat IUU fishing, the United States will:

  • Work with partner flag states and administrations — including Senegal, Ecuador, Panama, Taiwan and Vietnam — to improve monitoring of their vessels.
  • Draft guidelines with U.N. agencies on social responsibility in fishing.
  • Promote trans-Atlantic cooperation with partners to counter forced labor in seafood supply chains around the world.

Biden’s memorandum also calls for the U.S. government to work with African partners to increase military and law enforcement cooperation off the coast of West Africa.

The United States already partners with countries in Africa and beyond to combat IUU fishing. In March and April, U.S. forces worked with law enforcement from Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde and Interpol to intercept ships fishing illegally off the coast of West Africa.

In May 2022, the Quad partners (the United States, Australia, India and Japan) launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) to help countries across the Indo-Pacific use satellite technology to monitor their waters, prevent illegal fishing and better respond to humanitarian and natural disasters.

The United States will “promote sustainable use of the oceans in partnership with other nations and the private sector,” Biden says in his national security memorandum. “No nation, government entity, or non-governmental organization can address IUU fishing and associated labor abuses single-handedly.”