U.S. Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Ban Ships Caught Illegally Harvesting Seafood from Coming to U.S. Ports, Plus Expand Coast Guard Funding For Enforcement

The Fighting Foreign Illegal Seafood Harvest (FISH) Act would blacklist illegal foreign fishing ships.
Dan Sullivan and Sheldon Whitehouse
Republican Dan Sullivan and Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse have collectively sponsored the FISH Act bill. Courtesy U.S. Senate

Anytime democrats and republicans work together for the good of fish and fishermen it’s a time for celebration. And in late August it happened when the FISH Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan and Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

According to a Senate report, the bill if it becomes law, would blacklist ships caught engaging in the illegal fishing trade, ban them from U.S. ports and waters and provide further funding for the Coast Guard to challenge the trade.

“This is a very bipartisan bill, and a very needed bill,” says Sullivan.

The FISH Act directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to compile a list of foreign vessels that have engaged in unsanctioned fishing and ban them from U.S. ports. It also revs up the Coast Guard’s ability to inspect foreign ships and calls for more regular reports to Congress on illegal fishing activities.

By some reports illegal fishing accounts for up to 20 percent of the world’s fish harvest and provides enough illicit fish to feed entire nations. Much illegal fishing also is tied to organized crime, especially the illegal drug trade.

“Money laundering, labor exploitation, corruption and forgery are a small sample of serious crimes commonly committed during illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing,” Interpol stated in a 2020 report.

“Alaska is the superpower of seafood, the source of roughly two-thirds of all seafood harvested in the United States,” says Sen. Sullivan. “Our fishery’s extraordinary abundance is the result of responsible stewards who’ve sustainably managed this incredible resource and followed the rules. But not all vessels and countries abide by these rules, ravaging fish stocks without regard for other users or future generations—particularly the worst offender, China.”

China’s long-range fishing fleet numbers almost 20,000 ships, and they prowl the world’s oceans to feed China’s hungry masses. Chinese boats have been caught often illegally fishing.

“Illegal pirate fishing puts Rhode Island’s fishermen and processors who play by the rules at a disadvantage,” says Senator Whitehouse. “We have to root out this practice to protect our hardworking fishing industry and ocean economy. The FISH Act is a comprehensive effort to curb IUU fishing and restore the fisheries that sustain our vibrant and healthy ocean.”