The United Nations declared June 5 an international day for the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in late 2017. Yet, on the fourth observance of the annual awareness campaign, the global challenges continue to grow.
About 3.3 billion people — nearly half of the world’s population — rely on fish for 20 percent of their animal protein sources. However, 93 percent of the world’s major marine fish stocks are classified as fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly exploited.
With hopes of turning the tide against IUU, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released its “Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook” in September 2020, identifying IUU fishing as the leading global maritime security threat ahead of piracy.
“If left unchecked, IUU fishing threatens geopolitical stability around the world, because it undermines the economy of coastal states, increases tensions among fishing nations, and erodes governance structures,” said Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, commander of USCG Pacific Area.
If left unchecked, IUU fishing threatens geopolitical stability around the world, because it undermines the economy of coastal states, increases tensions among fishing nations, and erodes governance structures,” Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, commander of USCG Pacific Area.
The USCG stands ready to partner with nations committed to ending the scourge of IUU fishing, and it is asking them how they can work with the United States to achieve this goal.
The USCG has been the lead U.S. agency for at-sea enforcement of living marine resources laws for more than 150 years. USCG authorities, capabilities, capacity, and partnerships position the service to be a collaborative partner to combat IUU fishing. Its strategic outlook focuses on three areas:
- Promote targeted, effective, intelligence-driven enforcement operations
- Counter predatory and irresponsible state behavior
- Expand multilateral fisheries enforcement cooperation
The USCG has led the charge on countering nations and organizations that employ IUU fishing to undermine other nations’ sovereignty and economic security. In the Pacific islands, Oceania and the Western Pacific, Operation Blue Pacific is focused on combating IUU fishing and supporting partner nations through fisheries enforcement patrols on the high seas and the execution of bilateral ship-rider agreements.
Bilateral agreements operationalize the USCG’s goal to expand multilateral fisheries enforcement cooperation and enhance regional maritime security and governance. Host country maritime enforcement officers ride aboard USCG cutters patrolling within the host’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Through this partnership, the host country increases its capability to enforce its sovereign fisheries laws, and the USCG provides operational assets and law enforcement expertise.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Kimball recently completed an IUU fishing patrol in the Pacific islands, conducting 31 vessel evaluations and noting one potential violation. The USCG presence is increasing in the region with two national security cutters and three fast-response cutters stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and three additional fast-response cutters scheduled to be stationed in Guam. These assets can bring sustained law enforcement presence deep into the Western and Central Pacific.
In the Eastern Pacific, the USCG conducted Operation Kuartam, a joint effort between CGC Bertholf and the Ecuadorian Navy around the Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador expressed concern to the United States about a large distant-water fishing fleet just outside the country’s EEZ. Authorities suspected the mostly Chinese-flagged fleet of IUU fishing and of harming the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
CGC Bertholf tracked dark vessels, so called because they don’t broadcast their position on public monitoring systems, as well as nonregistered vessels and those exhibiting activities contrary to Regional Fishery Management Organization regulations and Ecuadorian sovereignty. CGC Bertholf maximized the partner nation engagement by patrolling with the Ecuadorian naval vessel LAE Isla San Cristobal in the Ecuadorian EEZ surrounding the Galapagos and in international waters. The operation highlighted significant progress for Central and South American partnerships in the fight against IUU fishing.
Using USCG capabilities to observe, collect, and share information on illicit activity in remote areas illustrates the many ways that the U.S. can help nations to police and protect their waters.
Global fish stocks are a valuable resource that provide economic and food security to many nations. IUU fishing, however, erodes regional and national security and undermines the maritime rules-based order.