April 21, 2023

Whitehouse, Sullivan, Colleagues Re-Introduce FISH Act to Combat Illegal Foreign Seafood Harvest

Bipartisan legislation would protect Rhode Island’s prized fishing industry by quashing unfair competition from illegal pirate fishing

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) yesterday reintroduced the Fighting Foreign Illegal Seafood Harvest (FISH) Act, legislation to combat foreign illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by blacklisting offending vessels from U.S. ports and waters.  The legislation would bolster the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement capabilities and advance international and bilateral negotiations to achieve enforceable agreements and treaties.

“I am pleased to reintroduce the FISH Act with Senator Sullivan, one of my longtime partners on oceans issues,” said Sen. Whitehouse, co-founder of the Senate Oceans Caucus.  “Our bipartisan bill cracks down on illegal fishing operations to level the playing field for Rhode Island fishermen and processors who play by the rules.  This all-hands-on-deck approach will help stamp out IUU fishing operations and restore the fisheries that keep our oceans vibrant and healthy.”

“Alaska is the superpower of seafood, the source of roughly two-thirds of all seafood harvested in the United States,” said Sen. Sullivan.  “Our fishery’s extraordinary abundance is the result of responsible stewards who’ve followed the rules and sustainably managed this incredible resource.  But not all vessels and countries abide by these rules, ravaging fish stocks without regard for other users or future generations—particularly the worst offender, China.  My colleagues and I have assembled a package to tackle this foreign threat to the sustainability of our oceans—by ratcheting up inspection and enforcement, raising the costs for the purveyors of foreign illegal fishing, and working with other nations to eliminate any safe harbor for illegal fishermen and their backers.  The FISH Act is an all-hands-on-deck effort to crack down on foreign IUU fishing for the sake of our fish, our environment, and our coastal communities.”

“Nearly 50 years ago, the Magnuson-Stevens Act established a framework that continues to be a model of sustainable fisheries management.  Unfortunately, foreign illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing undermines the laws that make U.S. fisheries some of the best managed in the world.  We must ensure that we have the appropriate policies in place to ensure the sustainability of Alaska’s – and our nation’s – oceans and fishing communities,” said Sen. Murkowski.  “I’m proud to help introduce legislation that will fight back against IUU fishing, to help safeguard the livelihoods of U.S. fishermen and women – key players in supporting America’s economy and food security – and ensure the sustainability of our fisheries remains a focus at home and abroad.”

“Illegal fishing poses a threat domestically and internationally and helps to fund criminal activity around the globe,” Sen. Wicker said.  “Building on the Maritime SAFE Act and enacting stronger enforcement would help protect national security and the global seafood supply chain from illicit activity.”

Senators Whitehouse and Sullivan first introduced the FISH Act in August 2022.  The bipartisan FISH Act would build on prior landmark legislation against IUU fishing signed into law in December 2019 as part of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act.   Key provisions of the FISH Act: 

  • Direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish a black list of foreign vessels and owners that have engaged in IUU fishing.
  • Direct the administration to address IUU fishing in any relevant international agreements.
  • Direct the U.S. Coast Guard to increase its at-sea inspection of foreign vessels suspected of IUU fishing, and coordinate with regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) to determine if a vessel’s flag state is taking corrective action.
  • Direct the administration to report to Congress on how new technologies can aid in the fight against IUU fishing, the complexities of the seafood trade relationship between Russia and China, and the success of prosecutions against IUU fishermen operating in U.S. waters. 

Senators Whitehouse, Sullivan, Schatz, Murkowski, and Wicker have worked together extensively on ocean sustainability issues, most notably on the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, the most comprehensive legislation ever to address the global marine debris crisis.  Whitehouse also secured the inclusion of a historic, comprehensive package of oceans policy legislation in the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act that will accelerate maritime technology innovation, improve ocean and coastal mapping, protect marine mammals, and harden our defenses against pirate fishing, among other important provisions.

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921

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