Press Release

New Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act Incorporates Stimson Recommendations

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, which includes numerous policy recommendations published by the Stimson Center. The bill aims to ensure that imported seafood in U.S. markets was not caught using forced labor or include illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fish. Stimson has worked with the House Natural Resources Committee and its Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, at their request, to combat IUU fishing and expand transparency across the seafood supply chain.

Incorporates Stimson recommendations: The bill incorporates twelve specific recommendations to address IUU fishing and enhance the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) as proposed in two publications from the Stimson Environmental Security Program:

Bipartisan and Whole of Government: The legislation’s focus on monitoring imported seafood and  forced labor is an acknowledgement of the complex environmental, economic, and human rights challenges across the seafood supply chain and makes clear why a whole-of-government approach is necessary. The bill’s bipartisan support also shows that the domestic impacts of IUU fishing and labor violations in seafood affect American consumers and the related seafood industries. Too often law-abiding U.S. fishermen and women are undercut by cheaper seafood imports that includes IUU fish or was caught or processed using forced labor.

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

“We commend Reps. Huffman and Graves for this new legislation to combat illegal fishing activities globally and address forced labor and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain. The seafood industry has a long way to go improve its transparency up throughout the supply chain.

The Stimson Center published a recent report that highlighted several actions needed to improve the government system to track seafood from where it is harvested to entering the United States, and a policy memo to NOAA that offered suggestions to strengthen and expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) and prevent illegally harvested and labelled fish from entering the U.S.

We are grateful that this bill incorporates many of those recommendations which are essential to improve transparency throughout the seafood industry. These steps are important to end the opaque nature of the international seafood supply chain.

American consumers have a right to be confident that the fish they purchase at a restaurant or in a market is legally harvested and not a byproduct of human rights abuses and forced labor conditions. I applaud the legislation particularly as it is designed to increase accountability for complicit fishermen and women, improve seafood traceability for greater consumer confidence, and end Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing while tackling labor abuses across the seafood supply chain. I look forward to working with the U.S. government as this bill moves forward, and these two Representatives should be applauded for bipartisan leadership to combat IUU fishing, seafood fraud, and forced labor in the seafood supply chain.”

Background on Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor

Notable elements of the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act to fight IUU fishing: 

  • Expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to include all species: SIMP currently only includes 13 species that are at risk of IUU fishing. The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act will direct the Secretary of Commerce to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to include all seafood and seafood products imported into the U.S. within two years.
  • Increase transparency on chain of custody: The bill also adds new data disclosure requirements under SIMP to put in place within one year for all imported seafood and seafood products entering into the U.S., which will collect information about labor conditions, transshipment, processing, location of catch, and beneficial ownership. The bill will also enforce publication of all seafood importers and highlight the list of any importers who are in violation of the law, resulting in the revocation of their permit. It will mandate Automated Information Systems (AIS)  vessel tracking be turned on in the waters of the U.S. Economic Exclusive Zone and on the high seas, and make the data public.
  • Improve the implementation, compliance, and enforcement of SIMP: The bill will expand auditing of seafood imports, require annual public reports on SIMP implementation, and modernize SIMP’s data management to include machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • Broaden the definition of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing: Currently the definition of IUU fishing under the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act only looks at IUU fishing in domestic waters. This bill amends “IUU fishing” to mean any activity as noted in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing, which includes vessels operating on the high seas, and beyond territorial waters.
  • Expand and enhance interagency cooperation and data sharing: The Maritime SAFE Act law created an interagency working group has been focused on IUU fishing. This bill will enhance the working group’s focus to also include forced labor and human trafficking, and increase cooperation and data collection.

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 fishing is detrimental to the sustainable management of fisheries resources; undercuts law-abiding fishing operations; and is closely linked to transnational organized crime, trafficking, piracy, and human rights and labor abuses. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 90 percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted, and as IUU fishing is largely clandestine it is difficult to measure its true effects on global fish stocks. Three billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and as fisheries resources are depleted worldwide, IUU fishing reduces food security, threatens the livelihoods for local fishing communities, and increase the chances of national and regional instability in developing countries around the world.

For more information about IUU Fishing, see Stimson’s reports: Shining a Light: The Need for Transparency Across Distant Water Fishing (Nov. 2019) and Casting a Wider Net: The Security Implications of IUU Fishing (Feb. 2018).

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 catch documentation for all SIMP seafood imports, moving away from paper documentation which can lead to falsification.
  • 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.
  • As the US Government considers expanding SIMP to all species, there needs to be a full and critical assessment of the implementation of the existing program.

Recommendations from the policy memorandum to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Stop Illegal and Mislabeled Fish from Entering U.S. Markets. This policy memorandum details the challenges of IUU fishing and keeping IUU catch out of U.S. markets, and the detrimental effects it has on the domestic seafood industry. It offers detailed recommendations to strengthen the implantation of SIMP.

Recommendations include:

  • Enhance technology: Develop, adopt, and implement a new software platform for SIMP that incorporates machine learning for predictive analytics to improve SIMP enforcement. NOAA should establish more data sharing agreements with other federal agencies who are members of the Maritime SAFE Act’s Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing who could support and expand SIMP compliance.
  • Expand SIMP inspections and enforcement:  NOAA should increase capacity for SIMP inspections, investigations, enforcement, and coordination. Expanding SIMP enforcement would have a deterrent effect across the seafood supply chain globally and provide greater confidence that the seafood entering U.S. commerce is not illegally harvested or misrepresented.
  • Increase SIMP’s programmatic staffing capacity: NOAA should increase the dedicated staff that oversees and implements SIMP, including the auditing capacity. Greater dedicated capacity would increase the number of audits, expand institutional expertise, and improve the ability of the program to conduct targeted and random sampling of incoming shipments.
  • Grow training programs: NOAA should grow SIMP training internally, across the U.S. federal government and internationally. Effective, continuous, and coordinated implementation across auditors, agents, and investigators is important as a means to identify pathways to share relevant data and help identify IUU seafood in the global supply chain. Further, NOAA should increase SIMP training with industry and foreign to build SIMP compliance and increase capacity with foreign partners.
  • Adopt electronic catch documentation: SIMP currently allows paper-based catch documentation, which can be easily falsified. NOAA should mandate a system of electronic catch verification, beyond the current paper-based catch documentation which can be easily falsified.
  • Expand SIMP to cover all species: Moving SIMP beyond its 13 species to all imported seafood species will act as a major deterrent over time and reduce IUU fish entering U.S. commerce. By increasing the amount of imported fish covered under SIMP, it will provide greater confidence to consumers that the seafood they buy is legally harvested and labelled correctly.
  • Support global efforts to enact similar seafood import regulations. In December, Japan passed a new law to launch a seafood import program over the next two years. With alignment between the U.S. SIMP, the EU’s Catch Certification Scheme, and Japan’s forthcoming program, over 50% of the seafood import market will be subject to traceability standards. The U.S. should support efforts in other major seafood import markets, such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan, to enact, implement, and align similar programs to increase the market share covered by import regulations aimed to exclude illegal fish.
  • Broaden the definition of IUU fishing. Adopting the broader definition in the UNFAO’s International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing would expand the U.S. government definition to include IUU fishing on the high seas, beyond territorial waters.

The Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program has been working closely with the U.S. federal agencies and Congress, international governments, and partners around the world to end IUU fishing and labor abuses. The Program examines the linkages between environmental degradation and resource usage, and how that affects the economic, food, and ecological security of countries, particularly in developing nations, and how if those issues are not addressed, instability and conflict may result.

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 on ocean issues to Secretary of State John Kerry, and formerly the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and Director of Policy for NOAA.

The Stimson Center promotes international security, shared prosperity & justice through applied research and independent analysis, deep engagement, and policy innovation.‌ For three decades, Stimson has been a leading voice on urgent global issues. Founded in the twilight years of the Cold War, the Stimson Center pioneered practical new steps toward stability and security in an uncertain world. Today, as changes in power and technology usher in a challenging new era, Stimson is at the forefront: Engaging new voices, generating innovative ideas and analysis, and building solutions to promote international security, prosperity, and justice. More at www.stimson.org

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