Global fisheries provide an important source of healthy food and employment to the world's population. In 2010 alone, fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 148 million tons of fish valued at $217.5 billion U.S. dollars. But unsustainable fisheries practices can put the world's fisheries and our food security at risk. Because we share with other nations one very large ocean and fish swim across national boundaries, conservation and sustainable use of our fisheries can only be achieved through strong international cooperation. Failure to act now threatens to deny this important resource to future generations.
An example of a strong international partnership is that between the United States and the European Union. We are working together to promote the sustainable management of our global fisheries. To do this we must put in place the mechanisms necessary to collect information about the health of our fisheries and use that information to ensure all fishing is conducted in a sustainable manner. We must continue to work with our international partners to stop overfishing globally. We also cannot allow fishing that destroys the ecosystem on which fish stocks depend. In other words, we must manage fishing so that it is sustainable -- and to achieve this we must stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Stealing fish from legitimate fishing operations, IUU fishing undermines the sustainability of our global fisheries and presents unfair market competition to legally harvested seafood -- depriving legal fishermen and coastal communities of an estimated $10 to 23 billion U.S. dollars annually. IUU fishing vessels often target developing countries with few, if any, enforcement resources to protect their coastal fisheries. These vessels fish without limits or discretion -- devastating fish stocks, destroying productive habitats, and jeopardizing food security and socio-economic stability of the vulnerable communities they target.
Like many intractable issues, progress to end IUU can seem slow and difficult. But progress is being made. In September of 2011 the European Union and the United States decided to stand together in the fight against IUU fishing. We agreed that working together we would have greater success in combating IUU fishing and supporting marine conservation and sustainable fisheries. Since the signing of the U.S.-EU joint statement on combating IUU fishing, we have advanced the fight against IUU fishing in various regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).
For example, one potent tool is to deny IUU vessels and their catch access to the marketplace. Joint U.S.-EU proposals to strengthen port state measures were adopted last year at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources. These measures keep illegally harvested fisheries products out of the global seafood supply chain. Denying IUU product from entering ports, consequently preventing IUU seafood from entering trade removes the financial incentives for engaging in IUU fishing, helps to eliminate "ports of convenience," diminishes the competitive advantage that illegal actors have over law-abiding companies and increases consumer confidence in seafood.
Another important component of the partnership between the European Union and the United States focuses on helping countries build capacity to manage their fisheries and enforce their laws. This is particularly important in developing nations, which often lack the capacity and/or resources needed to combat IUU fishing and are therefore most vulnerable to this problem. We are working to improve coordination on training efforts and the distribution of resources to maximize our impact and continuing our engagement with the global community.
Promoting sustainable management and use of our shared marine resources is and will continue to be a top priority for the United States and European Union. We look forward to continue to work with our international partners on our joint fight against IUU fishing to promote sustainable fisheries and ensure this important resource is available to future generations.
Jane Lubchenco is the undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administration of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Maria Damanaki is the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries