Port State Measures targeting IUU fishing takes effect June 5

  • An international agreement aimed at combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, or IUU, will take effect June 5. Alaskan pollock and crab are two species impacted by IUU catch, particularly from Russian waters. File Photo/Molly Dischner/For the Journal

The international Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing will go into effect next month as one more step in curbing a worldwide network of fish piracy.

On May 16, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced that 29 nations and the European Union have joined the international agreement, representing 62 percent of worldwide fish imports and 49 percent of fish exports, that were $133 billion and $139 billion in 2013, according to official state estimates.

The agreement only needs 25 countries to enter into force. It will go into effect on June 5.

The agreement is an international attempt to control illegal, unreported and unregulated, or IUU, fishing by tightening port controls for member nations.

It requires participating nations designate specific ports for foreign vessels. Foreign vessels may only enter with permission after providing a host of fishing documentation, and participating nations must compile lists of vessels known as IUU fishermen. These vessels should be refused port entry.

President Barack Obama ratified the U.S. agreement in November 2015 as part of the IUU Enforcement Act of 2015, but U.S. behaviors changed very little as a result, according to officials’ statements from 2015. The U.S. already bars foreign fishing vessels from offloading at its ports.

 Rather than focusing on domestic changes, the port agreement wants to tighten a noose around IUU deliveries worldwide before multiple nations can launder illegal fish among several processors and make their way into the U.S. market as mislabeled fish.

The more countries that join the agreement, the fewer worldwide ports that serve as offload points for IUU seafood.

“To have maximum impact, we need more countries to join the fight against IUU fishing,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. “As countries close off ports to illicit fishing products, those involved in IUU fishing will have to incur more expense and travel greater distances to land and sell their illegally caught fish.”

Estimates vary regarding the economic impact of IUU fishing. Economists have a hard time compiling the expansive and elusive data required.

“There have been numerous studies about the impact of IUU fishing but NOAA does not single out any specific study for reference,” wrote Katherine Brogan, a public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Division. “A survey of the literature indicates the challenge and variety of approaches associated with quantifying the value and impacts of IUU fishing. That said, one would certainly conclude that the economic impacts, social costs, and environmental threats resulting from IUU fishing are significant.”

The U.S. Coast Guard, however, estimates IUU fishing annually drains $10 billion to $23 billion away from the legitimate seafood industry worldwide.

One of the major IUU sources, the Russian Federation, has still not joined the agreement, though it signed intent to join in April 2010, according to FAO records.

Russia and the U.S. did enter a bilateral agreement in 2015 involving IUU fishing. The agreement instructs Russian and U.S. law enforcement to share the names and information of vessels and vessel owners involved in IUU fishing.

Alaska’s congressional delegation has emphasized the importance of Russia joining the agreement. Rep. Don Young introduced and passed the IUU Enforcement Act of 2015, which added the U.S. to the Port State Measure Agreement among other changes.

In Alaska, the largest fishing region in the U.S. with an annual $2 billion to $4 billion value, IUU cuts into the bottom line of pollock and crab, two of the most valuable species.

According to a GMA Research consumer report, up to 40 percent of what has been sold as “Alaska pollock” is in fact from Russian waters.

Young and Rep. Jaime Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation on Oct. 22, 2015 to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to change the term “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” The FDA subsequently announced Jan. 21 that only pollock caught in Alaska waters can be labeled “Alaska pollock.” Alaska waters are defined the Alaska-adjacent Exclusive Economic Zone three to 200 miles offshore, according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs U.S. federal fisheries.

Pollock is the largest fishery in the U.S., producing 2.9 billions pounds and accounting for 11 percent of U.S. seafood intake. In the North Pacific management region, pollock accounted for $406 million worth of landings.

Similar to pollock, North Pacific crab is often mislabeled as Alaskan. Russian IUU crab alone has cost Alaska Bering Sea crab fishermen up to $560 million, according to one estimate by United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest commercial fishing industry group.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

05/18/2016 - 4:12pm