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Fisheries Beyond National Boundaries

U.S. Delegation at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Local Vietnam fish market. Most of the seafood imported by the United States comes from Asia.

Fisheries managers from Turkey visited the United States to learn how to target swordfish using buoy gear, a fishing method that yields high quality swordfish with very low rates of bycatch.

Frozen sashimi-grade tuna being processed at a plant in China. 

The U.S. approach to science-based fisheries management has become a global model of success.  We are leading the way in scientific and technological advancements and in the development of innovative management strategies for sustainable fisheries.  The NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection aims to promote international cooperation to achieve effective and responsible marine stewardship and ensure sustainable fisheries management globally.

How does our work support U.S. interests and the economy?

The seafood business is a really big deal in the United States. In 2012, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $199 billion in sales impacts, contributed $89 million to gross domestic product, and supported 1.7 million jobs in U.S. marine fishing and across the broader economy.1 Many of our coastal communities depend on fisheries to support their livelihoods and culture. 

What role does NOAA play in international fisheries?

Increasingly, U.S. consumers seek assurances that their seafood is safe, legal, and sustainable.  Because the United States imports over 90% percent of its seafood, international negotiations are critical to sustainable management of fisheries beyond U.S. waters.  We work with other countries through various international fisheries organizations to promote internationally the same fisheries management and conservation practices we have at home.  Our international efforts aim to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen who domestically operate in some of the most sustainably managed and heavily regulated fisheries in the world.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing international fisheries?

One of our greatest challenges is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing—often referred to as pirate fishing.  This is a big problem in developing countries, many of which do not have the means to combat these IUU activities.  IUU fishing poses a real threat to fisheries and the marine ecosystem.  It also threatens the economy and puts honest fishermen who play by the rules at a disadvantage.

What is NOAA doing to combat IUU Fishing?

We are working internationally to ensure everyone is playing by the rules.  In partnership with the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, NOAA is training enforcement personnel in developing countries to increase their ability to police their fisheries.  We also identify nations engaged in IUU fishing and work directly with those countries to address their illegal activities. And we work within international fisheries organizations and other global organizations to make it harder for illegal fishermen to profit from their activities.

How does NOAA’s domestic work influence what happens outside the United States?

The United States is a global leader in fisheries management.  Not only have we been able to show that overfishing can be stopped, we are already witnessing progress.  In some fisheries stocks are rebuilding to healthy levels and we have been able to increase their quotas.  This is an amazing accomplishment to be able to share with the world.

What role do U.S. fishermen and industry groups play in this process?

As we prepare for international meetings, fishermen advise us in our positions. Some innovative industry partners are also sharing potential solutions.  For example, a buoy gear fisherman from Florida demonstrated the use of buoy gear for small-scale Turkish fishermen as an alternative to destructive driftnets. When we speak on behalf of the United States, we talk about the changes our fishermen have made and how working together with industry and environmental groups has led to a sustainable future for U.S. fisheries.  

Looking ahead, what are the priority areas for international fisheries?

With a fast-growing global population, the demand for seafood will continue to rise. To meet this demand while protecting the marine environment, we must continue to build international cooperation that supports science-based management.  Bycatch of marine mammals and seafood trade will continue to garner further attention moving forward.  We have made progress in reducing bycatch of sea turtles and seabirds in international waters, but we have a long way to go with marine mammals.  In the United States we have strict guidelines and conservation measures in place for marine mammals.  We need to create incentives for other countries to do the same.

1 National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Economics of the United States 2012 available here.