Illegal fishing remains a global security threat, report says

Illegal fishing remains a global security threat, report says


Combating illegal fishing requires a multilateral and whole-of-government approach, given the scope of the problem and the threat it poses to global security, according to a November 2017 report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Better sustainable fisheries management is critical, given that nearly 90 percent of global fish stocks are already overexploited or fully fished, said the report, titled “Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing as a National Security Threat.”

“IUU fishing, which accounts for an estimated 20 percent of catches worldwide, undermines not only these food security and economic imperatives; it represents a security threat for the United States and global partners,” authors Gregory Poling and Conor Cronin conclude in their report. Moreover, illegal fishing supports criminal networks, drug and human trafficking, and likely other non-state threats including piracy and armed insurgencies, the authors found.

“Successfully combating IUU will require a multifaceted effort spanning years,” the authors wrote. Governments, international organizations, corporations and consumers need to contribute to the solution, they said.

The report examined key ways that IUU fishing intersects with national security concerns, how government and nonstate actors tackle the problem, and areas that require more work such as the largely unregulated high seas beyond national jurisdiction. 

The authors cite the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) as the most ambitious and potentially the most effective international effort to fight IUU fishing, as it is the first legally binding treaty to do so. In 2009, the Food and Agricultural Organization adopted the agreement, which took effect in 2016 and has 51 participants, including the U.S., Japan and Indonesia. (Pictured: Indonesian police watch in April 2017 as the government destroys foreign boats caught illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.)

“Unfortunately, to date China remains noticeably absent from the agreement,” the authors write. “Though its ships are common violators of IUU regulations, China generally does not land foreign vessels at its ports.” However, they note that China has “engaged in productive bilateral conversations with the United States in recent years on how to better combat IUU fishing at its ports.”

The authors noted that many of the details of how to coordinate and implement PSMA still need to be ironed out. For example, “investigators in ports need to be better trained to look for not only illegally caught fish onboard vessels, but evidence of crimes that often accompany IUU fishing such as human trafficking,” they wrote.

In addition to advocating for strengthening the implementation of the PSMA, the authors identified the following priorities to bolster the fight:

  • Strengthen criminal penalties for IUU.
  • Create a stronger legal framework for management of the high seas.
  • Improve sharing of vessel monitoring system and automated identification system data among nations.
  • Reform fisheries subsidies that create incentives for IUU.
  • Increase accountability of flag states.
  • Improve data sharing among Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and other international organizations.

“Responses have so far been insufficient for the scale of the problem,” the authors concluded. Nations must recognize IUU “for what it is — a threat to food security, economic well-being and good governance, and national security.”