US, Europe join forces to stop pirate fishing

Piracy off the coast of Africa has grabbed headlines in recent years, but there is another type of piracy that has received far too little attention. Pirate fishing around the world is costing fishermen their jobs and income, and harms the ocean environment.


Pirate fishing, often called illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, deprives an estimated half-billion law-abiding fishermen and their communities up to $23 billion worth of seafood annually around the world. And because an estimated 3 billion people depend on seafood as their primary source of protein, pirate fishing has food security and humanitarian consequences as well. Illegal fishing operations are also known to subject people aboard pirate ships to unsafe and unfair working conditions at sea.

Pirate fishing also undermines the livelihoods of law abiding fishermen in the United States and Europe. When illegally caught fish reaches the global marketplace it depresses fish prices and leaves fewer fish to catch for law-abiding fishermen. And to make matters worse, illegal fishermen often use highly destructive gear that destroys habitats, endangers marine wildlife and threatens healthy fisheries.

This week, as head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European Union fisheries commissioner, we join together in Washington, D.C., to sign a historic joint agreement to strengthen cooperation across the oceans to address the global scourge of pirate fishing. Only by working together can we successfully combat illegal fishing.

The United States has turned a corner in rebuilding its fisheries and ensuring they are sustainable. The European Commission has just presented a proposal to reform the Common Fisheries policy designed to help rebuild Europe’s fisheries. Good science is the cornerstone of both policies. But it is not enough to get our respective houses in order.

Because fish and other ocean wildlife do not stay within national boundaries, international cooperation is essential to the long-term health of the world’s oceans and sustainability of fisheries and fishing jobs. The U.S. and Europe have a global responsibility as two of the largest importers of fish. We must take responsibility to make sure the fish we import is caught sustainably so that our markets do not fuel the decline of the oceans and the fishermen and fishing communities that depend on them, especially those in the poorest countries.

The United States, Europe, and other countries such as Japan, have taken significant legal steps to address illegal fishing. We are starting to identify illegal fishing vessels and bar them from our ports. Countries are taking measures to track and document fish imports. This week, we commit the United States and the European Union to combat illegal fishing, to strengthen our monitoring and enforcement of management measures in our role as parties to regional fishery management organizations and to various international treaties. We pledge to prevent illegal fishermen from benefiting from their piracy.

What is at stake are millions of jobs that depend on healthy oceans. What is at stake is food security for many parts of the world. What is at stake is the long-term health of the world’s oceans. As allies, the U.S and Europe are taking a major step forward to end pirate fishing.

• Lubchenco is U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and the head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Damanaki is European Union commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Readers may write to them at


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