Via Teleconference

1:42 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  We appreciate your patience with us as we’re running a few minutes behind.  Today we’ll have a few speakers discuss the National Security Memorandum on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Other Harmful Practices that the President signed this morning.

As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” but the embargo has now been moved up to the conclusion of this call.

For your awareness, not for your reporting, the senior administration officials on this call are [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official].

With that, I will pass it off to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thank you all for joining for today’s call.  Really appreciate your patience with us getting it started, and really look forward to sharing with you that, today, President Biden has signed a National Security Memorandum focused on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and associated labor abuses.

This is a great capstone to National Ocean Month.  This is following the President’s proclamation of June to be National Ocean Month and a recognition of June 8th as World Ocean Day.

The White House began this month with a series of announcements of the new steps the administration is taking to conserve and restore the health and productivity of the ocean for the benefit of all Americans.  And today is the kickoff of the U.N. Ocean Conference in Portugal, which is the time for us to really highlight the international components of our engagements around ocean conservation in particular.

Today, we’ll be sharing with you a bit more detail around what we’re doing to combat IUU fishing.  Again, that’s illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. 

IUU fishing threatens the health and precious biodiversity of our oceans, which is also facing increasing threats posed by climate change, acidification, and human pollution.

Additionally, IUU fishing threatens the food security of coastal communities that may not have the capacity to combat these practices and otherwise prevent overfishing in their waters and depleting of resources.

IUU fishing can be interconnected with a web of other troubling security challenges and criminal activities such as trafficking in persons, forced labor, trade in illicit goods, wildlife trafficking, and other violations of law.  Some states also encourage IUU fishing by associated vessels as a method of reinforcing unlawful maritime claims. 

The U.S. is committed to combating IUU fishing globally, and the National Security Memorandum that the President signed today provides the U.S government with a defined set of actions to address the problem of IUU fishing, including IUU fishing committed by distant-water fishing fleets, and associated criminal activities, such as the use of force labor in the seafood supply chain.

The memorandum, as you’ll see, directs departments and agencies with a variety of engagement strategies, from increased coordination with diverse stakeholders from public and private and foreign and domestic, to address the challenges in a comprehensive, all-of-government way.  It also uses the full range of existing conservation, labor, trade, economic, diplomatic, law enforcement, and national security authorities to address these challenges, and focuses around enhancing coordination and the use of existing tools and authorities to address the challenge of forced labor in the seafood supply chain.

Lastly, it also calls for increased access and diplomatic engagement around training and technical support of foreign partners to carry out engagements in combating this behavior in the fishing industry.

So with that, I am pleased to pass this over to my colleagues from State to share a bit more and then to NOAA.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks very much, [senior administration official].  And hello to everyone.  My name is [senior administration official]. 

As [senior administration official] was just mentioning, the elements related to combating IUU fishing on the National Security Memorandum that was signed today by the President include diplomatic engagements.

The United States is one of the largest seafood markets.  We have one of the largest exclusive economic zones and waters under our jurisdiction in the world.  And we’re also a fishing country. 

But we cannot combat IUU fishing alone; it is a global problem.  It is involved in the value chain that feeds not only the U.S. market but other important markets.  And there are a lot of countries who have been working to combat IUU fishing themselves. 

And we believe that one of the most important elements of our diplomatic engagement is to combine and partner with all of the countries that are engaged in this work to make sure that we are as successful as possible in addressing IUU fishing but also the related human rights, labor problems, and environmental impacts of IUU fishing.

And so we are very pleased this week to take advantage of the global focus on oceans at the U.N. Ocean Conference.  And we will be launching an IUU Fishing Action Alliance to bring together countries to commit to a pledge to take urgent action against IUU fishing. 

This will help us in the international implementation of the actions outlined in the National Security Memorandum, and it will help us capitalize on the resources and commitment of other countries, whether they’re coastal states, flag states, market states, or all of the above; and really begin to generate increased transparency in terms of fishing operations, increased accountability of fishers to the international rules or the rules of their flag authorities, and to make sure that the seafood products that are coming into the U.S. market are caught in accordance with international rules and national rules.

So that’s one of the major actions we’ll be taking to begin immediately to bring together the diplomatic efforts necessary to ensure the National Security Memorandum is effectively implemented and does what it is intended to do.

So with that, I’ll turn things over to [senior administration official] to talk about some actions that NOAA will be taking as well.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, [senior administration official].  Thank you, [senior administration official].

NOAA will be announcing two actions that help to achieve some of the objectives outlined in the National Security Memorandum.

First, today, NOAA is issuing a proposed rule which will enhance and strengthen its capabilities to combat IUU fishing and counter forced labor in the seafood supply chain by implementing several provisions under three different laws.

And I think the key — the key takeaway is that the —

what we will be able to do is we’re changing — well, we’re not changing, we are making our definition of IUU fishing consistent with that of the FAO’s, which will enable us in our comparability findings to both include forced labor and how we determine whether a country has comparable laws to ours, allowing the imports, and whether or not we identify fishing in waters under the jurisdiction of a nation without the permission of that nation or in violation of that nation’s laws and regulations.  And so that will help us to prevent imports of those products into the United States.

I encourage you to look at the full spectrum of the proposed rule for a number of other provisions that are proposed here.

The second announcement that NOAA, together with the 21 agencies that comprise the IUU fishing interagency working group, is — we are announcing that we are finalizing a strategic — a five-year strategic plan.  And in that strategic plan, we have identified a number of partners that we will be working directly with to combat IUU fishing on the ground.  And those partners are Senegal, Ecuador, Panama, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

We’ll be doing capacity building in those countries, not because they are the primary offenders of IUU fishing, but because they have expressed a willingness to work with the United States to combat IUU fishing in their countries.

With that, I’ll turn it back over to [senior administration official] and the NSC.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Keely, can you remind us how to queue up questions, please? 

Q    Hi, thanks for the call.  Just so I’m clear, could you maybe reiterate or be a little more specific about what the mem- — memorandum directs the agencies to do? 

And then, as a secondary question, I wonder how much of this is due to concerns about Chinese illegal fishing.  And, I mean, China says that it’s a responsible fishing nation, but how would you characterize China’s behavior in this area?  And has the U.S. ever broached negotiations with China over these issues?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thank you for that question.  So, with additional specificity, the NSM directs departments and agencies to work toward ending human trafficking, including forced labor and IUU fishing, while promoting sustainable use of the ocean in partnership with other nations and the private sector, and advance foreign and trade policies for the benefit of American workers. 

And specifically, it’s asking departments and agencies to increase the coordination with diverse stakeholders, as I mentioned earlier, to use that full range of tools that I mentioned earlier to you as well, but also to do things like: investigate fishing vessels and operators suspected to be harvesting seafood with forced labor and issue with hold release orders as appropriate; to increase our engagement with key private sector and foreign partners, including by providing training and technical support to these partners; and to carry out research on labor practices in the seafood industry through Department of Labor, for instance, to coordinate more closely with the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, and other enforcement agencies as well.

Specific to your question about China and our engagements there: The National Security Memorandum is not about any one specific country.  All fishing nations, including those with distant-water fishing fleets, carry a range of flag-state responsibilities including monitoring their fleets and enforcing rules to prevent their vessels from engaging in IUU fishing.

It is also critical that all flag states, including the PRC, fully accept and implement their responsibilities to prevent and deter IUU fishing, and ensures sustainable conservation and management of our fishery resources.

The PRC is a leading contributor to IUU fishing worldwide, and it has impeded progress on the development of measures to combat IUU fishing and overfishing in international organizations.  And the PRC has a responsibility to uphold these commitments as a flag state and actively monitor and correct the activities of fishing fleet activities in other countries’ waters — of its fleet fishing activities in other countries’ waters, including preventing its vessels from fishing outside coastal states’ license agreements or without a license to fish at all.

The U.S. has engaged bilaterally with the PRC to identify concerns about IUU fishing, to promote the PRC’s full implementation of flag-state responsibilities, and encourage the PRC’s improved implementation of international measures and in cooperation with agreements like the Port State Measures Agreement that now — that [senior administration official] mentioned briefly about PSMA. 

We also call on the PRC to fulfill its pledge and actively participating in and support the international community in fighting against IU fishing.

Thanks so much for the question.

Q    Hi, thanks for doing this call.  I had just some basic nuts-and-bolts questions.  Is this the first time there’s been a national security memo on IUU fishing?  And I also was hoping that the representative from NOAA could explain the first measure — the first action that they’re taking today in a little bit more detail.  It kind of was a little bit confusing to me, and maybe she could walk us through that.

And then, I also just wanted to know — I didn’t get a chance to read through the entire memo, but the complaint that I often hear is that there is not enough resources and not enough agents actually, you know, working on these problems inside NOAA, inside CBP to enforce the laws that already are on the books.  So, I’m wondering if there’s any commitment from the Biden administration to increase hiring of people in this field.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  [Senior administration official], do you want to start?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I can start.  Thank you for that question.  Let me go through the proposed rule and see if I can clarify a little bit more what I stated.

The proposed rule would strengthen NOAA’s ability to address IUU fishing activities when implementing the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act — a key engagement tool used to identify, consult with, and certify nations and entities whose fishing vessels are engaged in IUU fishing, bycatch of protected living marine resources, or shark catch on the high seas.  What we’re talking about today is really focused on that first part — the fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing.

Specifically, the rule proposes to broaden the scope of activities that NOAA can consider when identifying nations for IUU fishing to include, the first thing, fishing in waters under the jurisdiction of a nation without the permission of that nation or in violation of its laws and regulations.  And the second piece is: fishing activities in waters beyond any national jurisdictions that involve the use of forced labor. 

So, those are the key provisions that will — should the rule get finalized with those, would allow NOAA to find a country in violation of that and prevent those products from being imported into our market.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, [senior administration official]. 

Regarding your question on the NSM, this is the first time there’s been an NSM addressing IUU fishing. 

And regarding resources, we have been working closely with Congress to ensure there are adequate resources directed at addressing these key issues.  And we’ll continue to work closely with Congress on the implementation of the memorandum.

MODERATOR:  Great.  And thank you to our speakers.  And thank you for — you all for joining.  Apologies, we have to cut this quick at 2:00.  But as a reminder, the embargo now lifts.  Thank you.  Reach out with any other questions.

1:59 P.M. EDT

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