Alaska senators introduce bill tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Illegal seafood harvests around the world have been an issue for quite some time, and Alaska’s senatorial delegation, along with others, are stepping up to battle the problem.

Alaska’s Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with a bipartisan coalition of senators from Hawaii, Rhode Island and Mississippi, have introduced a bill, S.1227.

Called the Fighting Foreign Illegal Seafood Harvest (FISH) Act, the bill aims to thwart what’s known as foreign illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by blacklisting offending vessels from U.S. ports and waters, bolstering the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement capabilities, and advancing international and bilateral negotiations to achieve enforceable agreements and treaties.

The FISH Act would build on prior landmark rulings against IUU fishing, including the Maritime SAFE Act, authored by Senators Wicker and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and signed into law in December 2019 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Alaska is the superpower of seafood, the source of roughly two-thirds of all seafood harvested in the United States,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Our fishery’s extraordinary abundance is the result of responsible stewards who’ve followed the rules and sustainably managed this incredible resource. 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. My colleagues and I have assembled a package to tackle this foreign threat to the sustainability of our oceans—by ratcheting up inspection and enforcement, raising the costs for the purveyors of foreign illegal fishing, and working with other nations to eliminate any safe harbor for illegal fishermen and their backers. The FISH Act is an all-hands-on-deck effort to crack down on foreign IUU fishing for the sake of our fish, our environment, and our coastal communities.”

Sen. Whitehouse, co-founder of the Senate Oceans Caucus, said, “I am pleased to reintroduce the FISH Act with Senator Sullivan, one of my longtime partners on oceans issues. Our bipartisan bill cracks down on illegal fishing operations to level the playing field for Rhode Island fishermen and processors who play by the rules. This all-hands-on-deck approach will help stamp out IUU fishing operations and restore the fisheries that keep our oceans vibrant and healthy.”

On the NOAA Fisheries website, they state, “IUU fishing is a global problem that threatens ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries. It also threatens our economic security and the natural resources that are critical to global food security, and it puts law-abiding fishermen and seafood producers in the United States and abroad at a disadvantage.”

The Marine Stewardship Council, a nonprofit that works to end global overfishing and also has a hand in certifying fisheries in Alaska and around the world as sustainable, states on their website, “Billions of people around the world depend on the fishing industry for both their food and livelihoods. For many, sustainable fishing is a necessity, not a luxury. The alternatives are poverty, malnutrition, and hunger.”

They note that 3.3 billion people get at least 20 percent of their daily animal protein intake daily from seafood; 38 million people worldwide are directly employed in harvesting seafood; over 50 percent of the world’s traded seafood comes from developing countries; and up to 10 percent of the global population relies on fisheries for their livelihood.

That makes the IUU fishing an issue worldwide, but especially in Alaska, the largest seafood provider in the U.S.

Cristy Fry can be reached at