Press Release

USMCA Provides $8M to Combat Illicit Fishing and Improve Seafood Transparency in Mexico

New NOAA funding reflects Stimson report recommendations

Supply chain transparency keeps Illegally caught fish out of the US market

New funds will enhance enforcement and fisheries management

WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate has provided $8 million in new funding to combat illicit fishing and improve the monitoring of seafood imported into the United States as part of implementation of the US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement. The new funding is consistent with Stimson Center recommendations in the 2019 report A Qualitative Assessment of SIMP Implementation in Four Countries.

The new funding will be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to address

illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and enhance the implementation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP). Stimson’s report details the impact of IUU fishing and assesses the effectiveness of the SIMP implementation in four seafood-producing countries including Mexico.

The new funding and focus on SIMP is an acknowledgement of the risks that IUU fishing poses to the environment, economies, and geopolitical security of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as the need for sustained, multiyear partnership to succeed in those efforts.

Sally Yozell, the Director of the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program and co-author of the report, said:

“Without the resources to investigate the origins and movement of fish coming into the U.S. the door has been left open for the falsification of records which is unfair to US consumers and honest fishers . More effective seafood import monitoring will mean fewer illegal fish enter the market here and around the world, creating more prosperous fishing communities and better-managed fisheries.

As NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program expands to cover all species, this increased funding will be used to help the global program verify that the documents which are passed along the supply chain are valid. Both the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Congress should be commended for prioritizing these issues and securing significant funding to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the new deal.

Transparency along the seafood supply chain is important to reduce illicit fishing’s negative economic and environmental security impact on fishing communities. Transparency should be the social license for any fishing operation in the 21st century, and the legislation to implement the USMCA takes us one step closer to achieving that goal.”

Recommendations come from 2019 Stimson Report: The Stimson Center policy recommendations on IUU fishing included in the USMCA were originally published in A Qualitative Assessment of SIMP Implementation in Four Countries (Oct. 2019).

Quick Background Information

USMCA’s implementing legislation provides $8.0 million in supplemental appropriations to NOAA to engage in cooperation with the Mexican government in order to combat IUU fishing, and to enhance the implementation of NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program, or SIMP, through 2023. It also directs the Secretary of Commerce to implement the Port State Measures Agreement Act, a crucial tool in the fight against IUU fishing.

Notable elements of the USMCA will enhance efforts to fight IUU fishing: 

  • Seafood transparency. Enhancing SIMP 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 U.S. seafood market.
  • Expanded cooperation with Mexico on IUU fishing. Cooperating with the Government of Mexico ensures that the challenges and threats of IUU fishing are explored and solved in concert with regional and international instruments and competent international organizations.
  • Monitoring and enforcement of the Port State Measures Agreement Act. This law implements the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), a treaty that aims to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU catch from reaching national and international markets and reduces the incentive for vessels to engage in IUU fishing. Stimson’s reports on IUU fishing each called for states to enforce the PSMA and collaborate with other nations in support of the PSMA.
  • Increased capacity for monitoring, enforcement, and training. 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 USMCA provides for NOAA to enhance SIMP implementation over the next three years, providing much-needed full-time support to monitoring, enforcement, and training efforts in the U.S. and with partner states like Mexico.

What is the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP)? SIMP is a risk-based traceability program requiring the U.S. importer to provide documentation across the seafood supply chain from the point of capture to the point of entry into the U.S. market on 13 species that NOAA has determined as the most likely to be at risk of IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud.

Why is Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing a problem? IUU is detrimental to the sustainable management of fisheries resources; it undercuts law-abiding fishing operations; and it 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.

Recommendations from A Qualitative Assessment of SIMP Implementation of Four Countries. The report details how IUU fishing threatens national security through its impact on individuals, communities, economies, institutions, and governments. It also makes recommendations for improving SIMP implementation across the international seafood supply chain. Recommendations include:

  • Support capacity building with foreign governments to improve fisheries enforcement, monitoring, and compliance to support SIMP, particularly for small-scale and artisanal fisheries exporting seafood to the U.S.
  • Expand trainings and seminars with private sector and foreign governments to dispel confusion around SIMP and its implementation.
  • Target capacity building at the regional and national levels, with a responsive feedback mechanism to improve compliance.
  • Support the creation of electronic and digital tracing systems for all SIMP seafood imports, moving away from paper documentation.
  • Support transparency and expanded traceability more broadly, including encouraging other countries to mandate Vessel Monitoring Systems or other tracking devices plus making information publicly available.
  • Increase the number of audits and auditors at NOAA monitoring SIMP.
  • Increase the number of technical workshops in partner countries.
  • NOAA should share public information on the status of compliance with SIMP on its website, to assist in capacity-building efforts from the NGO and foundation communities.

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 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 www.Stimson.org.

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