Oct 01 2018
Under ‘Maritime SAFE Act,’ Multiple Government Agencies Would Contribute to Unified Effort
The term “lancha” has become well-known among Americans who are fighting against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Lanchas are small, propeller-driven watercraft that poachers from Mexico use to catch fish on U.S. reefs off the coast of Texas. These poachers do not abide by the rules, as U.S. fishermen do, and often use the spoils from their illegal catches to fund drug operations and other cartel activities. Worldwide, IUU fishing can mean big business, generating some $15 billion in illicit revenue each year.
Pirate Fishing Threatens National Security
I asked about the use of lanchas during a recent Senate subcommittee hearing investigating the criminal exploitation of ocean resources. These lanchas are estimated to bring in five times the catch of red snapper that Mississippi’s fishermen are allowed each season. It is wrong for our law-abiding fishermen to be put at a competitive disadvantage because of pirate fishing.
According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, IUU fishing is considered a threat to our national security. Given its connection to organized crime – not to mention the harm done to our fisheries – strategies to fight this illegal behavior should be tough and far-reaching. In 2014, the Senate ratified an important international treaty to keep vessels with illegal fish from entering U.S. ports, preventing this fish from ending up in our seafood market.
Although international cooperation is essential to curbing this problem across borders, the United States can take action on its own. I have introduced the “Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement (Maritime SAFE) Act” with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to unify various government entities in the fight against illegal fishing. Among those efforts would be a special task force to address the role of lanchas and an interagency working group to offer enforcement training to countries vulnerable to IUU fishing. The bill’s call for coordination with the intelligence community would help improve surveillance and tracking.
‘The Poison Pill … From Catch to Plate’
The “Maritime SAFE Act” would also be a victory against seafood fraud, since the bill encourages the expansion of reporting and recordkeeping requirements through the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. I am deeply concerned by the fact that IUU fishing is estimated to account for a third of the fish caught globally. This rampant fraud hurts our seafood industry, misleads consumers, and distorts population estimates of fish species.
Consider, for example, the negative impact on our shrimp industry. More than 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States is imported. Dr. David Veal, who serves as the executive director of the American Shrimp Processors Association, based in Biloxi, has called IUU fishing “the poison pill that taints the entire imported seafood chain, from catch to plate.” He noted that “the economic interests of our seafood industry are seriously undercut by IUU activities, not just what happens on the water but what occurs during the production, distribution, and sale.”
Seafood continues to be a major protein source for populations around the world, not to mention a significant economic driver. Commercial and recreational fishing industries support 1.6 million American jobs. Pirate fishing exploits our ocean resources, and its catch wrongly infiltrates our markets. We cannot let this criminal activity jeopardize the livelihoods of America’s honest fishermen.