WASHINGTON –- President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to create the world's largest ocean preserve. That was big news, and may have overshadowed another major announcement Obama made on the oceans front: a new directive to curb illegal fishing.
Obama announced both actions in a video message to the Our Ocean conference that the State Department is hosting this week. The president said he is directing federal agencies to develop programs curbing illegal fishing, preventing "seafood fraud" -- passing off some types of fish as different species -- and also keeping illegally harvested fish from getting into the U.S. market.
Between 20 and 32 percent of seafood caught in the wild and imported into the United States is illegally caught, according to a recent study in the journal Marine Policy. That's bad news for fish and for fishermen, Obama said.
"Global losses attributable to the black market from [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing are estimated to be $10-23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen in the United States and around the world," said Obama's memorandum.
"All agencies and offices charged with overseeing the seafood supply chain and verifying the authenticity of its products shall implement and enforce relevant policies, regulations, and laws to ensure that seafood sold in the United States is legally caught and accurately labeled," it continued.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the order would help the U.S. "ensure that all seafood sold in the United States is both sustainable and traceable, meaning customers will know exactly who caught it, where and when."
"I think it's a big deal," said Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "The U.S. is a big seafood market. They import a lot of seafood. They play a leading role in the world. If they're going to stand up and lead the way on these issues, it can only be a big deal."
Michele Kuruc, acting senior vice president for marine conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement that as a top seafood importer, "the U.S. has a responsibility to ensure that every fish bought in our stores, markets, and restaurants is fully traceable to where it was legally caught."
The administration's move follows up on the Senate's approval in April of four international treaties to curb illegal fishing.
"[W]e need to protect law-abiding fishermen and processors who are struggling in the face of illegal fishing operations and seafood fraud," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, said in a statement Tuesday. "I look forward to working with all the federal agencies involved in this program to ensure its success."