By BARRY HATTON and JOSHUA GOODMAN – Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to combat illegal fishing by China, directing federal agencies to better coordinate with each other as well as with foreign partners in an effort to promote sustainable harvesting. of the world’s oceans.
On Monday, the White House released its first-ever national security memo on illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing to coincide with the start of a United Nations ocean conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
According to the US International Trade Commission, a federal agency, nearly 11% of total US seafood imports in 2019, worth $2.4 billion, came from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. .
Although China is not named in the lengthy policy framework, the language it contains leaves little doubt as to its purpose. The memo is sure to irritate Beijing at a time of growing geopolitical competition between the two countries. China is a dominant seafood processor and, through state loans and fuel subsidies, has built the the largest deep-sea fishing fleet in the worldwith thousands of floating fish factories spread across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
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Specifically, the memo directs 21 federal departments and agencies to better share information, coordinate enforcement actions such as sanctions and visa restrictions, and promote best practices among international allies.
It will also be followed in the coming days by new rules from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expanding the definition of illegal fishing to include labor abuses, a first step towards the possible blacklisting of flag states that do not comply.
Conservation groups have hailed the effort, which builds on work begun under the Obama administration to clean up U.S. seafood supply chains.
“American anglers have to follow many rules and regulations of the U.S. government,” said Beth Lowell, vice president of Oceana, a Washington-based nonprofit. “By taking action against other countries like China that have a poor labor and environmental record, it levels the playing field and benefits legal fishers everywhere.”
The action plan also calls for the expansion of the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which requires importers to provide documentation from the point of capture to ensure that illegally caught fish do not slip into United States. Currently, the program covers only a dozen species. Groups like Oceana have lobbied for the program to cover all imports.
“Until the United States holds all seafood imports to the same standards as fish caught in the United States, illegally sourced seafood will continue to be sold alongside legal catches,” he said. said Lowell.
The action plan also does not provide additional resources to enforce existing laws.
“Combating IUU fishing is resource-intensive,” said Evan Bloom, a former State Department official who negotiated several international fisheries agreements and is now a senior fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Whether the United States really does more may hinge on whether NOAA devotes more funds to law enforcement efforts, information gathering, and inspections.”
In Lisbon, where officials and scientists from more than 120 countries were attending the five-day conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized some countries – which he did not identify – for researching their own economic interests rather than the needs of the entire planet.
“International waters are ours,” insisted António Guterres, referring to all the inhabitants of the planet.
The UN hopes the conference will give new impetus to protracted efforts for a global oceans agreement that covers conservation efforts on the high seas. livelihoods for billions of people. Some activists refer to them as the largest unregulated zone on the planet.
The so-called High Seas Treaty is being negotiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the main international agreement governing maritime activities.
After 10 years of treaty talks, however, just three months ago, a deal is still nowhere in sight. A fifth round is scheduled for August in New York.
“The largest ecosystem in the world (…) is still unprotected and dying before our eyes,” said activist group Ocean Rebellion.
Guterres said “significant progress” has been made towards agreement on a high seas treaty and the world stands at “a crucial moment” for the future of the oceans.
“We have to get people to put pressure on those who decide,” said António Guterres, calling on people to raise their voices and be heard.
Threats to the oceans include warming and acidification from carbon pollution, massive plastic contamination and other issues, according to the UN. Potentially dangerous deep-sea mining also lacks rules.
The conference is also expected to reaffirm and build on the approximately 62 commitments made by governments at the previous summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018, ranging from protecting small island states with ocean-based economies to sustainable fisheries and in the fight against global warming.
On the sidelines of the event, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, announced $50 million in new grants to help achieve the goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030. Currently , less than 8% of the ocean is zoned. as marine protected areas.
More than half of the money donated by Bezos Earth Fun will support organizations working in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama to strengthen the Eastern Tropical Marine Corridor. The four countries came together at last year’s United Nations climate change conference to announce the creation of a marine protected area the size of Spain containing environmental hotspots such as the Galapagos Islands,
US climate envoy John Kerry and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those attending the event.
Goodman reported from Cleveland, Ohio
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