Uncle Sam, however, seems to be much more of a pushover than old Saint Nick ever was. Getting on the naughty list for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing requires monumental stupidity, and really all you have to do is say please to get back on the nice list. I don’t know about you, but at my house Santa’s naughty list is long and it’s a semi-permanent designation.
NOAA released its naughty list last week. Ten countries who have engaged in illegal fishing practices, shark finning, or the bycatch of protected resources. OK, let’s dish. This is the fun part. They are: Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Panama, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela. These “naughty nations” violated rules ranging from banned drift-nets, to quota violations, to discarding plastic trash at sea.
There are some promising stories stuck in this report. Columbia, in an attempt to regain a positive citation (and continue to be able to export fish to the US) revoked several commercial fishing licenses and kept those boats at dock. They get a big wah-wah for landing on the list again this year for separate violations. There are also some predictably overwhelming pieces. Ecuador, for example, boasts a laundry list of vessels and illegal activities with very little in the way of planned corrections. In a case like this, the US Government will work with Ecuador to correct the problems, or they will have to export their catches elsewhere.
In some ways this fight seems hopeless. The Earth’s ocean is a huge place, and the violations listed in these reports are likely the tip of the ice-continent of illegal fishing. But, if these reports can increase the compliance of other countries with fishing laws even a little bit, there will be benefits to our domestic fishermen and to everyone who buys seafood in the US. As the second largest importer of seafood on Earth, leveraging that power for sustainable fisheries and a healthy ocean seems like the least we can be doing. The next step is a full traceability program so that we will know what our seafood is and where it came from. Until then, let’s choose domestic seafood when we can. If you’ve been buying all of your fish from Ghana, this is a good opportunity to reform your ways. You never know, Santa may be checking his list against Uncle Sam’s, and you’ll end up with a stocking full of Tanzanian mussels.