Senate Passes Legislation to Combat Pirate Fishing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate last night unanimously passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015. In May, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation to combat the multi-billion dollar threat posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. The legislation is the House companion to the Senate bill, which passed the House of Representatives in July. The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The bill increases enforcement capabilities for a number of international fishery agreements that combat IUU fishing, to protect fisheries in both Alaska and Hawai‘i, and across the entire United States.

“By cracking down on the illegal harvesting of fish, we are leveling the playing field and protecting the livelihoods of the 80,000 Alaskans who are directly or indirectly impacted by our seafood industry,” said Senator Murkowski, Co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus. “I thank my colleagues for recognizing the serious economic threat posed by pirate fishing and taking this critical step to ensure our fisheries remain healthy and thriving.”

“After years of effort – dating back multiple Congresses – I am proud to have gotten this bill moving early in my tenure on the Commerce Committee, and I am pleased to have had the cooperation of my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this important legislation into law,” said Senator Sullivan. “Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a global problem and this legislation will increase and streamline enforcement tools and assist the Coast Guard and NOAA in curbing this criminal activity that threatens our domestic fishermen by endangering the health of our fisheries resources and distorting our markets.”

“Currently, the world looks to the United States for leadership on how to manage fisheries,” said Senator Schatz. “With this bill, we can assume a similar leadership role on the international problem of pirate fishing by taking strong action to prosecute wrongdoers. Hopefully other nations will follow our example to put an end to illegal fishing practices once and for all.”

“Pirate fishing puts fishermen and processors who play by the rules at a disadvantage. It's a local problem,” said Senator Whitehouse, Co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, “because pirate fishing in foreign countries and on the high seas jeopardizes migratory fish stocks that our fishermen rely on, and pirate fishing brings down the prices we get. This legislation will help American fishermen by holding foreign governments accountable to enforce rules against illegal fishing.”

Each year illegal fishing produces between 11 and 26 million tons of seafood, resulting in economic losses with a global value of between $10 and $23 billion. IUU fishing for crab in Russia has had an adverse impact on Alaska crab fishermen by disrupting the market and lowering prices, and it is threatening the sustainability of the bigeye tuna that is the staple of Hawai‘i’s longline fishery. Last year, the Senate approved two treaties that protect Pacific fisheries used by Alaska and Hawai‘i by cutting down on IUU crimes.