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April 14, 2024

High Global Demand for Seafood Responsible for Illegal, Unregulated Fishing – Littlejohn 

The United States cites the global high demand for seafood as the leading cause of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, according to Jennifer Littlejohn, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Littlejohn delivered this message during a digital news conference addressing U.S. efforts to tackle environmental challenges in Africa. The conference took place on Tuesday in Accra, Ghana, prior to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya.

Responding to online participants’ questions, including those from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), she emphasized the significant impact of IUU fishing on marine biodiversity over the past five decades.

According to Littlejohn, the global surge in fish demand has increased pressure on fish stocks from fleets around the world, both on the high seas and in areas under national jurisdiction, leading to negative environmental consequences.

“As demand continues to grow, there are more and larger fishing vessels than ever before working to meet this market. We know that the lucrative but competitive global fisheries market also incentivizes vessels to avoid the costs associated with sustainable fisheries management, resorting to IUU fishing,” she explained.

“The 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report on global biodiversity concluded that fishing has had the greatest impact on marine biodiversity in the past 50 years, exacerbated by IUU fishing. IUU fishing can result in overfishing, which damages ocean biodiversity. Additionally, the use of prohibited gear can result in bycatch of non-target species, causing even greater harm to biodiversity.”

Littlejohn highlighted that IUU fishing could lead to the degradation of marine ecosystems, including corals and sea mounds, negatively impacting the marine species dependent on these habitats. She pointed out that IUU fishing also imposes significant economic costs globally, estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars annually.

According to a recent report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 26 million tons of fish are caught illegally, unregulated, or unreported each year. Littlejohn stated that U.S. seafood imports alone contribute around $2.5 billion annually, with almost 11% of the U.S. market linked to IUU fishing.

“As both a major harvester and a top market for fishing products, the United States has long emphasized working with other countries to improve fisheries governance and enforcement to prevent IUU-sourced fish and fish products from entering our markets,” she said. “We know this is also a priority for markets around the globe.”

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