Press Release

NDAA Takes Action to Combat Illicit Fishing Industry’s Security Threats, Includes Six Stimson Recommendations

in Program

NDAA Incorporates Maritime SAFE Act (Coons, Wicker)

Illicit fishing networks linked to transnational crime, human and drug trafficking, and piracy

Impact on fisheries threatens food source of millions, destabilizing economies and promoting political unrest

WASHINGTON – The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 includes six Stimson Center policy recommendations to combat the security threats posed by illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Originally part of the Maritime SAFE Act from Senators Coons (D-DE) and Wicker (R-MS), the NDAA incorporates a number of specific recommendations proposed by the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program to combat illegal fishing. Today’s passage represents several years of work to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and expand transparency across the seafood supply chain.

Sally Yozell, the Director of the Environmental Security Program, who worked closely with Senators Coons and Wicker, said:

“Illegal fishing networks are closely linked to national security threats including transnational crime, human and drug trafficking, and piracy. It undermines the economic and food security of coastal communities across the globe and hurts honest fishers who follow the rules.

Our recommendations, as adopted in the NDAA, will lead to greater transparency, a whole of government approach to the problem, and expand technologies and increase partnerships at the regional, and international levels.

Transparency should be the social license for any fishing operation in the 21st century, and this legislation takes us one step closer to achieving that goal.

These two Senators should be applauded for bipartisan leadership on this issue.”

Recommendations come from 2018 Stimson Report: The Stimson Center policy recommendations on IUU fishing included in the 2020 NDAA were originally published in Casting a Wider Net: The Security Implications of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (Feb, 2018)

Coons and Wicker adopted six Stimson recommendations in their Maritime SAFE Act (2018). The bipartisan bill recognized the economic, environmental and food security implications of Illegal fishing and the importance of tracking seafood throughout the seafood supply chain to combat illegal fishing.

Brian Finlay, President of the Stimson Center said, “This is the kind practical policy innovation that has built the Stimson Center’s reputation. We’re taking good ideas beyond the whitepaper and making a real impact in the world. I am very proud of Sally and the Environmental Security team.”

Quick Background Information

Notable elements of the NDAA/Maritime SAFE Act include:

  • Increasing capacity for monitoring and enforcement. Many countries affected by IUU fishing are unable to effectively monitor their waters, police illicit activity, or prosecute perpetrators because of their own limited capacity. The Maritime SAFE Act will increase US work with those states on anti-IUU efforts, making it an important tool for partner countries to increase their maritime security and dis-incentivize illegal practices.
  • Seafood transparency. The Maritime SAFE Act would increase transparency and traceability in the global seafood supply chain. Increased transparency and traceability combats IUU fishing by making monitoring and enforcement possible, blocking illicit products from entering the market.
  • Whole-of-Government Approach. By establishing an interagency working group on IUU fishing and seafood fraud, this Act will improve government coordination and cooperation to address the multi-sector impacts of IUU fishing.

Why is Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing a problem? IUU is detrimental to the sustainable management of fisheries resources, undercuts law-abiding fishing operations, and is closely linked to transnational organized crime, trafficking, and piracy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 90 percent of global fish stocks are fully or over-exploited and depleted, and estimates suggest that 20 to 50 percent of the global fish catch are illegally caught, never reported, mislabeled, or harvested from unregulated waters. As fishery resources are depleted world-wide, IUU fishing will reduce food security, harm the livelihoods for local fishing communities, and increase the chances of national and regional political in affected countries.

All Stimson Recommendations in the 2018 Casting a Wider Net report. Casting a Wider Net: The Security Implications of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing details how IUU fishing is a national security threat due to its many impacts on individuals, communities, economies, institutions, and governments. The report sets out a series of recommendations that articulate a whole-of-government strategy that the U.S. government and foreign partners can put into action to curb the domestic and global impacts of IUU fishing. Recommendations include:

  • Adopting a whole-of-government approach.
  • Increasing engagement of Combatant Commands (COCOMS).
  • Expanding shiprider agreements between the U.S. and foreign countries.
  • Encourage countries to ratify, implement, and enforce the Port State Measures Agreement.
  • Dedicate resources to increase monitoring and enforcement capacities.
  • Advocate for comprehensive foreign domestic fisheries regulations and catch reporting requirements.
  • Encourage greater transparency of the fishing industry.
  • Mandate use of Vessel Tracking Systems (VTS) to track fishing fleets.
  • Increase data and information collection and sharing domestically and with partner states and national, regional, and sub-regional bodies.
  • Increase dialogue and partnerships between the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.

Stimson recently released a report on the related problem of distant water fishing fleets. A new report sheds light on the impact that large fishing fleets, operating illegally in waters far from their home country, are having on the economy and ecology of numerous countries and ecosystems. It identifies the top Distant Water Fishing (DWF) fleets in the world, shows where they operate, their connection to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and other linked tenuous activity such as corruption.

The Stimson Center’s Environmental Security program explores the array of environmental threats, both human and natural, that have the potential to undermine national, regional, or global security.

Sally Yozell is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Environmental Security program at the Stimson Center. Yozell’s research examines the suite of environmental threats that have the potential to undermine national, regional, or global security. Her work focuses on ocean security, climate security and wildlife protection.  Prior to joining Stimson, Yozell was a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State John Kerry where she provided advice and technical expertise to advance U.S. policies in the international arena related to ocean, climate, and wildlife protection.

The Stimson Center is a nonpartisan policy research center working to protect people, preserve the planet, and promote security & prosperity. More at

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