Combat Illegal Fishing and Labor Abuses at Sea

NRDC is working to end illegal fishing practices and human rights abuses in the seafood industry.  

South Korean coast guard commandos board boats to investigate alleged illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea in 2011.


Dong-a Ilbo/AFP via Getty Images

Most seafood consumers want to believe that the fish they eat was harvested ethically, without harming the crew that caught it or the ecosystem it lived in.

But illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices are rife in the global seafood trade. These practices include violating national boundaries, using prohibited gear, and ignoring harvest limits meant to sustain fish populations. Illegal fishing is also closely tied to forced labor abuses and the exploitation of vulnerable workers who are trying to provide for themselves and their families.

The United States is the world’s largest seafood market, meaning the U.S. government has a great deal of influence to stop illegal and unethical fishing practices. But shockingly, as much as one-third of our seafood imports are illegally harvested. In 2019, an estimated $2.4 billion worth of seafood entering U.S. markets was sourced from IUU fishing practices.

NRDC is advocating for the U.S. government to step up its leadership and thoroughly reject illegal fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood industry. The measures the United States can use to tackle human rights abuses and IUU fishing together include: requiring full supply chain traceability, expanding vessel tracking requirements, modernizing the U.S. seafood screening process, and requiring basic information about crew working conditions on fishing vessels so that the United States can enforce its anti-forced-labor laws.

Congress and the Biden administration must also strengthen existing laws and regulatory programs, like the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act and the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, to block illegally fished and unethical seafood.

If the United States commits to eliminating IUU fished and unethical seafood from its commerce stream, consumers can finally feel confident that the seafood we eat is what it says it is on the label and was not harvested with unethical labor practices.

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