Federal Agencies Release Joint U.S. Strategy for Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing

IUU Fishing

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is one of the greatest threats to ocean health and a significant cause of overfishing. It contributes to the collapse or decline of fisheries that are critical to the economic growth, food systems, and ecosystems of numerous countries around the world. It is also a global problem that disadvantages law-abiding fishers and seafood producers. The U.S. Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement Act called for stronger federal collaboration to coordinate efforts to address this and other maritime related threats. Today, the Congressionally established U.S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing, composed of 21 member agencies, released its wide-reaching National Five-Year Strategy for Combating IUU Fishing.

U.S. agencies are leaders in building an expanding toolbox for partners to combat IUU fishing, bringing world-wide recognition to the issue through international channels, and making progress through major domestic initiatives. The Working Group reflects the need for a whole-of-government approach to address this insidious problem. The strategy is a result of years-long domestic and international collaboration and private sector and industry engagement. It not only makes tangible and targeted progress towards combating IUU fishing globally, it also realizes a shared vision for sustainable stewardship of marine resources.

The strategy details U.S. priorities and plans over the next 5 years to combat IUU fishing and promote maritime security. It includes measures to increase governmental and regional capacity to implement and enforce domestic regulations and international rules and norms to mitigate the effects of IUU fishing. These U.S. actions amplify the global collective action necessary to address this problem.

Over the next 5 years, the Working Group will engage with five priority flag states and administrations: Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan, and Vietnam. We will focus our efforts in helping foreign partners in their ongoing efforts to combat IUU fishing and related threats. These flag states and administrations were selected in large part due to their demonstrated willingness and interest to take effective action against IUU fishing activities associated with their vessels. They are also located within priority regions the Working Group identified as being at a high risk for IUU fishing activity, having no mechanism to prevent the entry of illegally caught seafood into the regional markets, and lacking the capacity to fully address such illegal activity. U.S. activities will be tailored to the specific needs of each region, flag state, or administration, and U.S. projects and activities already underway. 

The strategy calls for agencies to leverage existing tools and innovate new technologies to improve global governance, conservation, and management measures. Our focus on public-private partnerships is especially promising and recognizes the important role industry must play for change to endure. The emphasis on partnerships within the United States, between foreign governments, and with non-government organizations and industry will increase the effectiveness of ongoing efforts. It will help foster better communication and coordination on a global scale.

The efforts of the Working Group align closely with the President’s National Security Memorandum on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Associated Labor Abuses. NOAA, U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Coast Guard, in coordination with other Working Group agencies, will oversee the implementation of the strategy and track progress in priority regions and with the priority flag states and administrations. Together with other governments and authorities, seafood industry, academia, philanthropies, and nongovernmental stakeholders, the strategy will combat and deter IUU fishing and related threats. 

The United States is committed to strengthening enforcement measures, advancing public-private partnerships, and making measurable progress in creating an environment where IUU fishing fleets and their owners no longer benefit from these illicit practices.

Dr. Kelly Kryc, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Professor Maxine Burkett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries and Polar Affairs,
U.S. Department of State

Rear Admiral Jo-Ann F. Burdian, Assistant Commandant for Response Policy,
U.S. Coast Guard


Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a pervasive, far-reaching security threat


1 in 5 fish

Caught around the world is thought to have originated from IUU fishing.1


3.3 billion

People, nearly half the world’s population, rely on fish for 20% of their animal protein.2 IUU fishing removes access to this valuable protein source, particularly to the most vulnerable coastal States.


$401 billion

First sale value of global fish production in 2018.2 IUU Fishing results in tens of billions of dollars of lost revenue to legal fishers every year.




Of the world’s major marine fish stocks are classified as fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly depleted.2 IUU fishing undermines the sustainable management of these resources, pushing them to the limits of their capacity.





Of fish eaten in the U.S. are imported.1 Without effective traceability and monitoring, illegally caught fish around the world can enter the U.S. market.



$5.6 billion

Value of U.S. commercial fisheries in 2018. When IUU fish enter the marketplace, legal U.S. fishers are disadvantaged.3




  1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2020). Fishwatch: U.S. Seafood Facts. Retrieved from www.fishwatch.gov/ sustainable-seafood/the-global-picture
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2020). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. Rome. doi:10.4060/ca9229en
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2020, February 21). Fisheries of the United States, 2018. Retrieved from NOAA Fisheries: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/fisheries-united-states-2018

Today's Realities


Healthy fish stocks underpin the food security of coastal communities, maritime regions, and entire nation-states. The sustainable harvest of these resources is directly linked to economic security – both for the United States and for nations around the globe, many of whom rely on revenue from fish for substantial portions of their gross domestic product. However, today the world’s fish stocks are under stress not only from growing consumption demand and changing ecosystems, but also from deliberate efforts to exploit gaps in existing governance structures. Illegal transshipment operations, heavily-subsidized distant water fishing fleets, and nations who choose to systematically engage in IUU fishing amplify these stressors and catalyze additional criminal activity which further undermines maritime rules-based order.

U. S. Coast Guard’s Enduring Role in Combatting IUU Fishing


The U.S. Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the United States for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws for more than 150 years. As the only agency with the infrastructure and authority to project a law enforcement presence throughout the 3.36 million square mile U.S. EEZ and in key areas of the high seas, the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to combat IUU fishing and uphold the rule of law at sea.

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Promote Targeted, Effective, Intelligence-Driven Enforcement Operations

The U.S. Coast Guard will enable, support, and inform counter-IUU fishing operations, including through the innovative use of intelligence, technology, data analysis, and information sharing in order to eliminate the shadows where illicit actors thrive.


Counter Predatory and Irresponsible State Behavior

The U.S. Coast Guard will prioritize operations and engagement that solidify U.S. commitment and model responsible behavior, confront the deleterious actions of near-peer competitors.


Expand Multilateral Fisheries Enforcement Cooperation

The U.S. Coast Guard will sustain and strengthen bilateral and multilateral partnerships with like-minded, capable nations to maximize the impact of collective counter-IUU enforcement efforts and promote the rule of law.


The peace and prosperity of the United States requires a capable, innovative, and effective U.S. Coast Guard to combat the destabilizing effects of IUU fishing. Ensuring the safety, security, and stewardship of the maritime domain is an enduring U.S. Coast Guard mission.


Promote Targeted, Effective, Intelligence-Driven Enforcement Operations.

U.S. Coast Guard at-sea enforcement operations enhance maritime governance by detecting and deterring IUU fishing on the high seas. By documenting and reporting IUU fishing activity, U.S. Coast Guard efforts enliven the process for RFMOs and the international community to hold flag States accountable to address IUU fishing by their vessels. The U.S. Coast Guard will coordinate across the U.S. Government to target areas susceptible to IUU fishing and otherwise increase our law enforcement presence on the high seas and in the EEZs of partner nations.


Counter Predatory and Irresponsible State Behavior.

The U.S. Coast Guard will prioritize operations and engagement in areas where our efforts are most critical to demonstrate U.S. commitment and model responsible behavior. The U.S. Coast Guard will shine a light on the activities of those who violate international rules-based order, exposing and holding accountable the most egregious predatory actors.


Expand Multilateral Fisheries Enforcement Cooperation.

The U.S. Coast Guard will build and maintain lasting cooperation with key partners to empower regional resource conservation and management. Working with U.S. and international partners, the U.S. Coast Guard will assist at-risk coastal States and like-minded nations to develop and maintain their own robust counter-IUU fishing capacity, bolstering their governance and enforcement systems and affirming the United States as a preferred partner. Through targeted, persistent, and collaborative efforts, we will sustain and strengthen connections with partner nations supporting international oceans governance.

Ensuring Long-Term Success


In addition to the specific counter-IUU fishing strategic objectives, there are several enabling concepts that are critical for the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure long-term success: