US Backs Tracking of Illegal Fishing Boats

More than 50 countries signed a recommendation to regional fishery management organizations to do a better job tracking vessels illegally fishing for tuna, swordfish, sharks, and other highly migratory species.

More than 50 countries, including the United States, signed a recommendation July 14 asking regional fishery management organizations to do a better job of tracking vessels that illegally fish for tuna, swordfish, sharks, and other highly migratory species, NOAA reported. The economic losses worldwide from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing have been estimated to be as much as $23 billion annually, the agency said.

This is a first step toward procedures for sharing information about vessels engaged in this illegal fishing, according to the agency, which says global cooperation to prevent it, sound science, and effective management "are essential to the sustainability of these wide-ranging species that are highly valued in commercial and recreational fisheries."

It is significant because the five regional fishery management organizations managing highly migratory species in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans and adjacent seas will share information about these vessels. The regional organizations' rules require member nations to prevent illegal fishing in their regions. Sharing the information means illegal vessels previously listed in only one region would have more difficulty avoiding detection by moving to another region.

"Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing undermines the sustainability of fisheries and the ability of fishermen who abide by the rules to make a decent living," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA's administrator. "Sharing information on [illegal] vessels across oceans will strengthen enforcement and prevent legal and sustainable fishing operations from being disadvantaged in the global marketplace."

NOAA said this recommendation was a key goal for the U.S. delegation to the third joint meeting of the world's regional fisheries management organizations that manage highly migratory species. The meeting, known as Kobe III, was hosted by NOAA in La Jolla, Calif. "I am pleased with the overall level of cooperation among participants. It has helped us make strides to coordinate measures that improve compliance with international fisheries management," said Russell F. Smith, NOAA's deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries, who chaired the meeting. "Now, we must focus our efforts on meaningful, binding implementation of these measures within the five tuna regional fisheries management organizations."

The five tuna organizations are the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT). The United States is a member of ICCAT, IATTC, WCPFC, and is an observer at IOTC.

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