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  • Writer's pictureTravis Turgeon

Discussing the Realities and Contemplating Solutions for IUU Fishing

"The NOAA flags 7 countries for IUU fishing violations in their 2023 report to congress."


Illegal Fishing. It’s a topic that rarely surprises those with any interest in global trade, economics, or anything even remotely tangible to resource sustainability and global food security. Still, it’s a recurring (and growing) problem that is increasingly difficult to stop. Data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) suggests that up to 26 million tons of fish are caught illegally every year, totaling as much as $23 billion in economic value and diluting the food market with products that are anything but sustainable.


The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) creates biennial reports for the US Congress to help identify some of the world’s most significant contributors to Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Once organizations, vessels, or nations are identified as having some role or relation to IUU fishing (earning them a negative certification), they work with the United States over the next two years to address all flagged activity and put systems in place to effectively manage all fishing activity that was deemed unfit for a positive certification. If there is sufficient evidence of positive change after two years, a positive accreditation is awarded, and the country or entity is removed from the following biennial report. A negative certification can lead to restrictions and denial at US ports and even result in import restrictions for all products, regardless of species or status.


In 2021, the biennial NOAA Report on Global IUU Fishing and Bycatch of Protected Marine Life Resources identified 31 nations and entities engaged in IUU fishing.


While the 2023 report is certainly in better shape, the NOAA still identified 7 nations or entities for IUU fishing violations.

  • Angola

  • Grenada

  • Mexico

  • China

  • Taiwan

  • Gambia

  • Vanuatu

Beyond standard IUU fishing violations, several noteworthy violations were made worth mentioning.

  • China and Taiwan were flagged for seafood collected with forced labor.

    • 2023 is the first biennial report considering forced labor violations in the fishing sector.

  • China and Vanuatu were identified for shark catch without a regulatory program in place.

    • 2023 is the first biennial report considering shark catch violations.

  • Mexico was negatively certified for operating without regulatory programs to reduce the bycatch of the North Pacific Loggerhead Sea Turtle (endangered).

Below, we briefly outline why each country was flagged in the 2023 NOAA IUU Fishing Report and provide a bit more detail on the current state of commercial fisheries in each.



7 Countries Flagged for IUU Fishing by the NOAA


“IUU fishing and other unsustainable fishing practices undermine U.S. and global efforts to sustainably manage fisheries and conserve marine resources. Combating these practices is a top priority of the United States, and we’ll work with each identified nation and entity to remedy these activities and strengthen their fisheries management and enforcement practices.”


- Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.


* The following scores/rankings are listed by the IUU Fishing Index for 2021. The Index provides an IUU fishing score for all coastal states between 1 and 5 (1 being the best and 5 the worst). The Index allows countries to be benchmarked, ranked, and assessed for their vulnerability, prevalence, and response to IUU fishing. Global rankings are in order from “worst” to “best” (#1 being the worst and #151 being the best).


Angola


2021/22 Violations

  • Failed to meet the basic ICCAT reporting requirements

  • Evidence of unreported catch of Atlantic Billfish (Blue Marlin, White Marlin, Sailfish)

  • Failure to submit annual reports, compliance tables, shark checksheets, billfish checksheets

  • No Task 1 data reported

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on reporting benchmarks over the next two years and the implementation of domestic fisheries regulations.


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #37


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.42


Grenada


2021/22 Violations

  • Failure to meet basic ICCAT reporting standards

  • Overharvesting Atlantic Blue Marlin, Atlantic White Marlin, North Atlantic Swordfish

  • No compliance tables were submitted

  • No shark and billfish compliance checksheets were submitted

  • No Task 1 data reported

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on reporting benchmarks over the next two years, how the country addresses overharvesting issues of species listed above, and the implementation of domestic fisheries regulations.


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #42


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.40


Mexico


2021/22 Violations

  • Failure to take action against Mexico-flagged vessels fishing illegally in US waters in the Gulf of Mexico

  • Operating without regulatory programs to manage the bycatch of the North Pacific Loggerhead Sea Turtle (endangered)

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on actions taken to address illegal fishing in US waters and reduce the number of repeat offenders. Additionally, the following areas will be monitored for progress:

  • Attend meetings with USCG and NOAA regarding IUU fishing

  • Cooperation in facilitating the transfer of Mexican nationals apprehended by the USCG to the appropriate authorities in Mexico

  • Increase marine patrols where most IUU fishing originates

  • Improve monitoring and control of the entire small-scale fleet

    • Enforcement of domestic vessel registry laws

  • Increase patrols near the US EEZ boundary

  • Improve information-sharing to US officials regarding illegal fishing vessels in the US EEZ (AIS data, VMS data, etc.)

2021 IUU Global Ranking: #15


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.61


China


2021/22 Violations

  • No corrective actions have been taken against vessel violations for WCPFC, IATTC, and ICCAT in previous years

  • Shark and sea turtle catch violations

  • Forced labor violations (often associated with dark shipping and ghost vessels)

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on the action taken to correct the violations listed above and reduce forced labor occurrences. Reducing forced labor will require further investigation into labor violation reports. Identification and investigation of these occurrences can be supported with various earth observation and vessel observation strategies (tip-and-cue monitoring, AIS data collection, RF data analysis, etc.).


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #1


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 3.86


Taiwan


2021/22 Violations

  • Failure to take corrective action against past vessel violations

  • Shark finning violations

  • Forced labor violations

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on steps taken to investigate past vessel violations and reduce instances of forced labor aboard fishing vessels.


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #6


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.88


Gambia


2021/22 Violations

  • Failure to take corrective action against vessels flagged for ICCAT violations

  • Failure to adequately manage flag state control measures

  • Failure to meet basic ICAAT reporting standards

  • Failure to submit compliance tables

  • Failure to submit Task 1 data

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on the response to ICCAT violations, meeting reporting benchmarks over the next two years, and the implementation of domestic fisheries regulations.


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #87


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.19


Vanuatu


2021/22 Violations

  • CCAMLR conservation violations (31 unaddressed violations)

  • Failure to meet reporting standards

  • Failure to take corrective action against previous violations

What’s Next?

2025 certification will depend on the response to the ICCAT violations and successfully meeting reporting benchmarks over the next two years.


2021 IUU Global Ranking: #20


2021 IUU Fishing Index Score: 2.55



Technologies and Strategies to Minimize the Availability of Illegally-Caught Seafood in the US


In a recent poll conducted by Oceana, 83% of US citizens agree that all seafood, regardless of the source, should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner table, and 77% are in favor of establishing requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly traceable at all points in time.


What types of technology would be useful to implement such a system for tracking and traceability? How could we ensure that the tracking methods are legitimate? What methodologies would ensure that AIS data, for example, is untampered with? How would such a system consider dark fleets and illegal fishing vessels?


Lots of questions exist, most of which hold real weight. And while it’s hard to set a hard-and-fast plan in place from behind a keyboard, a few things come to mind in the mental quest for solutions.


Comprehensive and Historical AIS Data


Comprehensive, accurate, and historical AIS datasets serve as a baseline for tracking the whereabouts of fishing vessels at sea. While these systems can be turned off or manipulated, even the absence of AIS data can say a lot about a vessel and the intentions of the journey. When used with other earth observation strategies like RF and tip-and-cue monitoring, it becomes a highly valuable asset in tracking vessels in near-real time.


Historical AIS datasets and/or real-time AIS data can be purchased through privately owned companies like Spire Global, allowing users to find historical relevance for a ship or place of interest.


Follow this link to learn more.


RF Data for AIS Validation


Another space-based technique for vessel monitoring is something called RF monitoring. Radio Frequency data is collected by measuring the radio waves emitted from a ship or mechanical object of interest from satellites in low-earth orbit. One of the biggest benefits of RF monitoring is that, while AIS is more or less unusable at night or with dense cloud cover present, RF signals can be detected in any environmental condition. This makes RF data highly useful for AIS validation. If a ship’s AIS data can be validated or invalidated with RF data, it says a lot about the ship and its organization.


Like AIS data, access to RF data can be purchased through private companies offering space-based services.


Follow this link to learn more.


Tip and Cue Monitoring for IUU Vessel Identification


While Tip-and-Cue monitoring is a strategy, not necessarily a technology, it's a valuable tool (although more costly) that can be used to identify, track, and take down IUU fishing vessels. It works like this. A low-resolution satellite monitors a large area of interest. Once a potential target enters the zone, it tips a high-resolution satellite to come in and helps determine whether the vessel of interest is engaged in unlawful activity - in this case, IUU fishing, offloading illegal seafood cargo, etc.


There aren't a ton of companies offering tip-and-cue services, but those that do are typically among the most trusted in the industry.


Follow this link to learn more.

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Trusted Data Providers with Tip and Cue Capabilities

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