Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) prepare to conduct a law enforcement boarding from the cutter’s 35-foot Cutter Boat in the Central Pacific, Dec. 2, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West)

Coast Guard Releases New Strategy to Combat ‘Leading Global Maritime Security Threat’ of Illegal Fishing

The U.S. Coast Guard released a new strategy to combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that will focus on targeted intelligence, countering irresponsible state behavior, and expanding multilateral fisheries enforcement cooperation.

USCG will advance its whole-of-government effort with partners like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.

“Not all maritime nations have the capability to surveil their sovereign waters or the moral conscience to police their fleets; this lack of shared responsibility creates opportunities for exploitation,” Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said in the introduction of the IUU Fishing Strategic Outlook. Illegal fishing “erodes both regional and national security, undermines maritime rules-based order, jeopardizes food access and availability, and destroys legitimate economies.”

Schultz declared that IUU fishing “has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat.”

“If IUU fishing continues unchecked, we can expect deterioration of fragile coastal states and increased tension among foreign-fishing nations, threatening geo-political stability around the world,” he said.

One in five fish caught around the world is believed to have originated from IUU fishing. IUU fishing results in tens of billions of dollars of lost revenue to legal fishers every year as 3.3 billion people around the world rely on fish for at least 20 percent of their animal protein. Ninety-three percent of the world’s major marine fish stocks are classified as fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly depleted.

“The United States, as both a major consumer and a major producer of seafood products, must continue to lead efforts to neutralize the IUU fishing threat,” the strategy states.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 11 and 26 million metric tons of fish are caught illegally each year. “Illegal fishing methods and gear used by IUU fishing perpetrators can also destroy habitats and result in excessive and wasteful bycatch. These practices destroy not only the resource today, but also its ability to be sustainably harvested for years and decades to come,” the strategy notes. “Left without alternatives, these conditions entice more and more fishers to seek alternative sources of income such as piracy, drug trafficking, and human trafficking, creating a dangerous downward cycle furthering regional instability.”

“…IUU fishing fundamentally erodes port and maritime security and exacerbates existing gaps in maritime governance. Criminal elements frequently use similar trade routes, landing sites, and vessels for trafficking arms, migrants, drugs, and other contraband. Maritime disorder created by IUU fishing also has global reach, as rival states are increasingly using resource extraction as an instrument of national power.”

Calling out China and Taiwan for accounting for 60 percent of distant water fishing fleets, the document adds that “some governments have demonstrated a lack of political will to fully acknowledge and address IUU fishing problems in their DWF fleets, selfishly placing their own steady supply of fish above preserving the marine ecosystems, food supplies, and economic stability of other nations.”

Ocean Guardian, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Fisheries Enforcement Strategic Plan, focuses on three strategic priorities: “protect the U.S. EEZ from foreign encroachment, enforce domestic living marine resource laws, and ensure compliance with international agreements.” The IUU Fishing Strategic Outlook is intended to complement that plan by articulating the USCG’s holistic approach to enforcement.

The first line of effort stresses that IUU enforcement must be supported by “robust intelligence information in order to most effectively identify, target, and interdict illicit actors in the maritime domain.”

“By documenting and reporting IUU fishing activity, U.S. Coast Guard efforts enliven the process for RFMOs and the international community to hold flag States accountable to address IUU fishing by their vessels,” the strategy states. “The U.S. Coast Guard will coordinate across the U.S. Government to target areas susceptible to IUU fishing and otherwise increase our law enforcement presence on the high seas and in the EEZs of partner nations.”

The second line of effort involves confronting “the actions of predatory and irresponsible state actors by promoting partnerships with at-risk coastal states and like-minded nations.”

“This will affirm the United States as a preferred partner while shining a light on the activities of those who violate international rules and norms,” the strategy continues. “Deterring IUU fishing and disrupting corrupt cycles of influence that enable these illegal operations requires long-term commitment, persistent presence, and influence by legitimate authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard excels in bringing human-to-human partnerships to confront complex maritime challenges and is uniquely positioned to advance U.S. strategic objectives and combat the destabilizing forces of IUU fishing nations.”

The third and final line of effort focuses on “targeted and persistent engagement” through which “the U.S. Coast Guard will strengthen and build multi-lateral, multi-national coalitions of likeminded partners to combat IUU fishing.”

This will include adding counter-IUU fishing to existing U.S. bilateral enforcement agreements and pursuing new agreements and including counter-IUU fishing in annual at-sea exercises conducted with DOD and international partners.

“The U.S Coast Guard is prepared to take an enhanced leadership role in this effort, but we will not be successful alone. Playing to our strengths of working with intergovernmental and international partners, we seek to galvanize a coalition to confront coercive and antagonistic activity together and uphold our shared peaceful and humanitarian values,” Schultz said.

“We know such international cooperation works: for 25 years, the six nations which contribute to the enforcement efforts of Operation North Pacific Guard have confronted illegal high seas driftnet fishing operations,” he added. “Our collective efforts have been overwhelmingly successful in nearly eliminating illegal high seas driftnet fishing in the North Pacific Ocean.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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