Modern-day pirates might not look like Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, but they do charter ships across the world’s oceans, stealing and plundering a valuable resource that billions of people depend on for food.
Bills introduced in House and Senate committees this month aim to eliminate “pirate fishing,” a global scourge that threatens the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities around the world.
Also known by its less charismatic name—illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, or IUU—pirate fishing occurs when boats illegally sneak into areas to harvest marine resources that belong to another nation, largely for sale to fish-hungry markets like the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Attempts to build sustainable fisheries are undermined when unregulated boats scoop up massive quantities of illegally caught fish, leaving behind damage to marine ecosystems in their wake. Pirate fishing accounts for a whopping 20 percent of the world’s seafood catch, and losses due to pirate fishing range from 10 to 23 billion dollars annually.
In practice, the U.S. Pirate Fishing Elimination Act would implement the Port States Measures Agreement, an international treaty aimed at prohibiting vessels that have engaged in illegal fishing from entering ports around the world. Senator Jay Rockefeller and 12 cosponsors introduced the bill in the Senate.
If ratified, the Port States Measures Agreement will make it more difficult for pirate fishers to refuel and resupply at ports—a necessary component of long fishing trips at sea.
“[The Port States Measures Agreement] is basically designed to change the incentives and increase the risk for owners of vessels that have anything to do with IUU fishing, whether it’s transporting the seafood or harvesting it in the first place,” said Dean Swanson, the chief of the international fisheries affairs division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
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