House Considers Important Illegal Fishing and Wildlife Trade Bills

The United States must step up to reverse the biodiversity crisis, and in so doing, protect humans’ very existence.


Yu Feng, a Taiwanese-flagged fishing vessel suspected of illegal fishing activity, August 17, 2009

Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert/ U.S. Navy

In an answer to the biodiversity and climate crises, the House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC) will take up 16 bills on Thursday aimed at helping reverse these disasters.

The hearing will include bills that address the global issues of wildlife trade and illegal fishing, both of which have huge impacts on our planet’s species, undermine our resilience to climate change, and are connected to transnational crime, including human trafficking. Indeed, direct exploitation of species, including wildlife, is the second-largest driver of terrestrial species loss. And illegal fishing practices are linked to depleted fish populations, bycatch of vulnerable species, and damage to marine habitats and ecosystems, not to mention the associated forced labor practices. By taking up bills that address these issues, the House Natural Resources Committee is pushing the United States to step up to reverse the biodiversity crisis, and in so doing, protect humans’ very existence.


Let’s Start with Illegal Fishing

To truly ensure fishing is sustainable and that marine ecosystems are healthy into the future, we must stop illegal fishing, also known as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Roughly one-third of the global seafood harvest comes from IUU fishing practices, making managing fisheries sustainably impossible. That’s because illegal fishing operations do not follow fisheries management practices and laws, thus driving overfishing. Illegal fishing has a darker human side—forced labor and human trafficking are common practices in the seafood industry, and IUU vessels are more likely to exploit their crews. If we are to tackle the ocean’s biodiversity and climate crises, stopping IUU fishing must be a part of the conversation.

Unsustainable fishing is the primary driver of biodiversity loss in the ocean over the past 50 years. For the billions of people who rely on the oceans for food, scientists emphasize the critical importance of stopping IUU fishing and of enforcement of the natural resource laws that are already on the books.

Representative Jared Huffman (CA-2) has introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act (H.R. 3075), which would address these two problems together with a commonsense whole-of-government approach. This bill calls for government agencies to integrate their work to stop labor abuses and IUU fishing. The approach is necessary to ensure that the United States is no longer a major conduit for illegal and unethically harvested seafood.

The proposed act will allow the United States to more proactively identify and stop illegal and unethical seafood shipments by:

  • Closing loopholes in the United States’ traceability program, the Seafood Import monitoring Program (SIMP), and expanding it to cover all seafood species
  • Requiring information about labor conditions and the supply chain (including transshipment information, harvest locations, and vessel ownership) for seafood imports
  • Updating the electronic import control system

The legislation would also require and enable the United States to more vigorously enforce against IUU fishing in producer countries.

The United States should never import illegally caught seafood and seafood that is harvested and produced with forced labor. Representative Huffman’s bill outlines a path forward to stop these illegal practices and offers an opportunity for NOAA and the Biden administration to step up. If passed, it would help to establish the United States an international leader in the global effort to end both illegal fishing and forced labor at sea.


A lion skin displayed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to show examples of confiscated animal byproducts.

Credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Wildlife Trade Is Just as Problematic

As outlined in several recent reports (see here and here), we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis, with one million species facing annihilation, many within decades, absent “transformative change.” Wildlife trade—for a myriad of uses, including food, clothing, traditional medicines, and the pet trade—is one of the top threats, and the United States plays a huge role in this problem as one of the world’s top importers of wildlife. Between 2000 and 2012, the United States imported an average of 225 million live animals and 883 million wildlife specimens.


Several of the bills that the HNRC will take up this week recognize this and seek to put an end to it. For example, Representative Ted Lieu’s (CA-33) Bear Protection Act (H.R. 2325) would prohibit the importation, exportation, and interstate trade of bear items and products. And Representative Earl Blumenauer’s (OR-3) Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 3135) would amend the Lacey Act to prohibit importation, exportation, and transportation of any live animal of any prohibited primate species.

Other bills the committee will examine address critical funding gaps for international species conservation. Representative Hakeem Jeffries’s (NY-8) Global Amphibian Protection Act (H.R. 2026) would establish a fund to conserve highly endangered amphibian species, and Representative Huffman’s Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act (H.R. 1569) would help pay for protection of species listed as endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, among other vulnerable wildlife.

Of course, these bills—which Congress will hopefully pass—are just a start to the United States addressing the biodiversity and climate crises. There are scores of other actions Congress and the Biden administration must take to make up for the last several years of environmental destruction and chart a new path ahead, including protecting special places, as outlined in the America the Beautiful campaign, and taking bold action on climate by moving away from fossil fuels.

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