On Monday, June 6th, the American Security Project held a conversation with Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica P. Medina focused on the role of the United States in combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. The conversation took place amidst the International Day for the Fight against IUU fishing (June 5th) as well as World Oceans Day (June 8th) and focused on current global efforts as well as recommendations for future actions that would strengthen global awareness of the impacts of IUU fishing.
To begin, Assistant Secretary Medina highlighted the wide range of ocean, environmental, and scientific topics that fall under the purview of her office. Additionally, Assistant Secretary Medina noted that this year in particular is a busy one for those working in the maritime domain. These include meetings on plastic pollution, protecting biological diversity, regulating the maintenance of fish stocks, and IUU fishing. Among these topics, Assistant Secretary Medina referenced the global pledge to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans from IUU fishing by 2030, established under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
The conversation then shifted to how the discussion and awareness of issues related to IUU fishing has increased, especially over the last decade. Secretary Medina emphasized the reliance of coastal countries on fishing industry, and how overtaxed oceans directly impact a food and income source for millions worldwide. This point was made by recounting that current fishing yields globally are estimated to be 250% of a sustainable global yield.
Assistant Secretary Medina also noted critical technological improvements that have helped many countries and the international community writ large better track and understand the scale of IUU fishing. These improvements have facilitated governments’ ability to track “dark fleets”, “distant water fleets” and transshipment activities. Tracking these types of vessels and their movements is crucial to regulating poor labor conditions as well as IUU fishing, as ships must come into port in order to be subject to current regulations.
Assistant Secretary Medina also provided insight into the various roles that the United States continues to play in the fight against IUU fishing. The U.S. has been a critical player in raising awareness of the complexity of IUU issues, including economic impacts, labor and human rights abuses, and challenges with re-flagging vessels. As such, the U.S. remains a key player in organizing global efforts. Domestic laws like the Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement (SAFE) Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the international Port State Measures Agreement are just a few examples of legal and policy instruments that have already improved transparency along supply chains and tightened regulatory powers
Assistant Secretary Medina concluded by outlining three steps crucial to fighting IUU fishing. The first was to set clear protected areas across the ocean in order to allow for the regeneration of fish stocks around the world. Next was the need for better transparency for fish catches throughout the supply chain, illustrated by the example of Russian fish imports potentially circumventing import bans. Finally, the Assistant Secretary highlighted the need to work closely on education and training in partner nations, especially island nations that rely heavily on surrounding oceans.