In January 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its Biennial Report to Congress on Improving International Fisheries Management. In the report, NOAA identifies three nations whose fishing vessels were reported to have engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing: Ecuador, Mexico, and the Russian Federation.
IUU fishing “undermines economic opportunities for U.S. fishermen and poses a direct threat to food security and socio-economic stability in many parts of the world,” according to NOAA; and countries are held responsible under international law for the illegal activities of fishing vessels registered under their flag. Ecuador, Mexico, and the Russian Federation are reported to have had fishing vessels violate several IUU fishing regulations in the last two years, including fishing in restricted areas, discarding or misreporting catch, and disposing plastics into the sea.
Since the last Biennial Report was published in 2015, five of the six countries previously identified took sufficient action to prevent IUU activities by adopting new regulations, amending existing policies, and by sanctioning responsible individuals. Mexico was re-identified in the 2017 Biennial Report and negatively certified due to continued illegal fishing in U.S. waters and overfishing of shared stocks. When NOAA ‘negatively certifies’ a country, it means that that the country can incur trade and port restrictions, but none have been enacted for Mexico. NOAA will continue to work with Mexico to support corrective action against IUU fishing activities. Ecuador was also re-identified, but for different violations than previously reported in 2015. As Ecuador amended their legislation and resolved previous cases, the country is not subject to import or port access restrictions. The Russian Federation was identified for fishing illegally in U.S. waters and undermining conservation measures of the Southern Ocean’s fisheries authority, such as misreporting fishing activity.
The 2017 Biennial Report also identifies three countries “of interest”: Costa Rica, Italy, and Panama. Countries “of interest” have fishing vessels that were identified for IUU activities over the past two years; they are not formally recognized as the cases were resolved through previously existing compliance measures or other appropriate means.
NOAA intends to work with Ecuador, Mexico, and the Russian Federation to improve their fisheries management and enforcement and will assess their progress in the next Biennial Report, due in 2019. If a country fails to make sufficient progress towards addressing the IUU activities of its fishing vessels, they risk restrictions on seafood imports and the denial of port privileges for their fishing vessels.
The Biennial Report also includes updates regarding domestic, regional, and global efforts that have occurred over the last two years to combat IUU fishing, minimize bycatch of protected species, and conserve sharks. A few significant highlights include:
- the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) created the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea
- the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a final rule establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, a national seafood traceability program aimed at preventing IUU and/or fraudulent seafood from entering U.S. commerce
- Congress passed the Ensuring Access Pacific Fisheries Act which will allow the U.S. to join the two newest regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) – the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO).
 NOAA is mandated to submit the Biennial Report to Congress under the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, as amended by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.