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Huffman, Graves Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Combat IUU Fishing, Human Rights Abuses

May 11, 2021

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), Chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, and Representative Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain. 

This legislation would link IUU fishing to forced labor in the seafood supply chain and make seafood import monitoring more effective. It would also increase transparency and traceability from catch to plate, strengthen enforcement against IUU fishing and forced labor, improve interagency cooperation, and increase pressure on other countries to tackle IUU fishing and human rights abuses.

“IUU fishing is an environmental and humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. should be a global leader in solving it,” said Rep. Huffman. “Illegal fishing operations damage ocean ecosystems and healthy fisheries, and are often the same ones that rely on atrocious, illegal practices like human trafficking and forced labor. Our new legislation tackles IUU fishing to protect human lives, promote responsible fishing around the world, and level the playing field for U.S. fishermen. Not only do we need to ensure an ethical seafood supply chain, but we also need to stop IUU products from entering our markets and competing with those who follow the rules and who keep our domestic fishing industry sustainable.”

The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act would:

  • Expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to all species; increase data requirements for SIMP, including consideration of labor conditions; improve detection of imports at risk of IUU fishing and labor violations; and increase interagency coordination and data sharing.
  • Establish seafood traceability and labelling requirements; increase outreach on seafood safety and fraud; and improve seafood inspections and federal enforcement of seafood fraud.
  • Strengthen international fisheries management, including expanding U.S. authority to revoke port privileges for fishing vessels associated with IUU fishing and expanding IUU determination criteria to include human trafficking, forced labor, and other labor rights violations.
  • Update the responsibilities of the IUU Interagency Working Group.
  • Authorize funding for new Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) on vessels and amend requirements for where AIS must be used by U.S. vessels in federal waters and on the high seas.

Background

Up to one-third of annual global seafood catch, as much as 56 billion pounds, is estimated to be a product of IUU fishing. These practices threaten food security, compromise the health of the oceans and fisheries, and undermine fishers and seafood businesses that play by the rules. Fishing operations that engage in human trafficking and forced labor are often the same ones that break the laws regulating seafood harvest. Labor violations include abuses at sea and within processing facilities, such as forced labor, child labor, human trafficking, withholding of pay, physical abuse, debt bondage, and more.

The United States is the largest seafood importer in the world, and despite efforts to deny illegally and unethically harvested seafood access to U.S. markets, a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission found nearly 11% of total U.S. seafood imports in 2019, worth $2.4 billion, were products of illegal or unreported fishing. The report also estimated that if IUU imports were prevented, U.S. fishers could increase their income by an estimated $60.8 million.

Additional Resources

Text of the bill can be found here.

A one-pager of the bill can be found here.

A section by section of the bill can be found here.

What Supporters are Saying 

John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance: “Every year, American shrimpers are forced to compete with a half billion dollars worth of IUU shrimp imports. The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act represents an essential step forward in eliminating IUU seafood imports from our market, leveling the playing field for the U.S. shrimp industry.  We are grateful for the leadership of Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA) in developing practical solutions to something that is significantly harming the U.S. commercial fishing industry.”

Virginia Willis, chef and James Beard award-winning cookbook author: “As a chef and sustainable seafood advocate, I strongly support the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act. This important legislations aims to improve seafood traceability; fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and curb the labor abuses of human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor in the US seafood supply chain.  We desperately need “Bait to Plate” legislation.  Our seafood choices matter and impact not only the health of the ocean, but also very real human lives.”

Sara G. Lewis, Traceability Division Director, FishWise: “FishWise applauds efforts to expand the definition of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing to include products produced by forced labor. This bill constitutes a landmark step towards a comprehensive approach to ensuring seafood sustainability and transparency in the industry, that promotes and encourages verification of environmental and social safeguards throughout the supply chain. The proposed steps to strengthen the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) will improve the ability of regulators to coordinate across agencies on capacity building and enforcement, more effectively closing US markets to products associated with illegal and exploitative practices.”

Esmeralda López, Legal and Policy Director, Global Labor Justice- International

Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF): “The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act is an important step in recognizing that fishing practices that harm the environment are often integrally linked to labor exploitation. GLJ-ILRF welcomes the recognition, included in the bill, of the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as critical to combatting forced labor. The bill provides an opportunity for the U.S. to expand tracing of seafood entering the U.S. and pressure seafood companies to improve their practices.”

Beth Lowell, Deputy Vice President, U.S. Campaigns, Oceana: “Seafood sourced from illegal fishing or at the expense of human rights have no place in the United States. Illegal fishing threatens the future of our oceans and those who depend on them. U.S. dollars should never support illegal fishing or injustices happening at sea, and consumers should be protected from seafood fraud. Oceana applauds Rep. Huffman and Rep. Graves for their leadership to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and provide more transparency in the seafood sector. The United States can close our markets to illegally sourced seafood, and this bill offers a promising pathway to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, protect workers at sea, and prevent seafood fraud. Now is the time for the United States to get tougher on illegal fishing and ensure that all seafood is safe, legal, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.”

Ame Sagiv, Director, Forced Labor & Human Trafficking, Humanity United Action: “The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act is a significant milestone in the fight against human trafficking and forced labor within seafood supply chains. Critically, this bill recognizes that these human rights abuses are often closely linked to environmental abuses such as IUU fishing, and the federal government needs a cohesive strategy that tackles both the labor and environmental issues together. This legislation greatly contributes to this effort, including through requiring the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to collect data on labor conditions related to imported seafood and ensuring the federal government incorporates human trafficking and forced labor into its definition of IUU fishing.”

Kehinde Togun, Senior Director, Policy & Government Relations, Humanity United Action: “Humanity United Action applauds the leadership of Representatives Jared Huffman and Garret Graves for their introduction of the bipartisan Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act. This legislation makes critical strides towards allowing the United States to better combat the use of human trafficking and forced labor in global seafood supply chains. Humanity United Action endorses this bill and urges Congress to swiftly pass it.”

Andy Shen, Senior Oceans Adviser at Greenpeace USA: “The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act recognizes that illegal fishing and labor rights abuse are interconnected and provides critical, tailored solutions that address both. This bill, if adopted in its current form, could significantly improve conditions for fishers by placing pressure on seafood companies and fishing nations to meet higher labor and environmental standards in order to access the US market. It could also change the policies and practices of US brands and retailers that have profited from human rights and environmental abuse for far too long. Congress and US companies must support this bill and stop all illegally caught seafood, including forced labor-produced seafood, from being sold to US consumers.”

Sally Yozell, Senior Fellow & Director, Environmental Security Program, Stimson Center: “We commend Representatives Huffman and Graves for their new legislation to combat illegal fishing activities globally, and address forced labor and human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain. The Stimson Center published a recent report that highlighted several actions needed to improve the government system to track seafood from where it is harvested to entering the United States. We are grateful that this bill incorporates some of those recommendations which are designed to improve transparency throughout the seafood industry. These steps are important to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen and women who follow the rules, improve seafood traceability for greater consumer confidence, and end Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing while tackling labor abuses across the seafood supply chain. We look forward to working with the U.S. government and Congress as this bill moves forward.”

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