WASHINGTON — Pirates are no longer the top security threat on the high seas, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. That distinction, the agency says, now belongs to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, otherwise known as IUU fishing.

This week the Coast Guard released a new strategic plan to go after fishermen who are illegally depleting fish stocks and undermining international agreements that were put in place to protect the global seafood industry.

Katy Mary Fishing Boat at Pier 38.
Illegal fishing threatens U.S. fishermen, including the Hawaii longline fleet based in Honolulu Harbor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“This exploitation erodes both regional and national security, undermines maritime rules-based order, jeopardizes food access and availability, and destroys legitimate economies,” Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz wrote of the initiative. “If IUU fishing continues unchecked, we can expect deterioration of fragile coastal States and increased tension among foreign-fishing Nations, threatening geo-political stability around the world.”

The Coast Guard estimates that illegal fishing costs the legal fishing industry billions of dollars per year in lost value and further depletes an already struggling resource, making conservation efforts even more difficult.

Citing a recent United Nations report, the Coast Guard estimated that 93% of marine fish stocks have been classified as “fully exploited, overexploited, or significantly depleted.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, which is homeported in Honolulu, recently returned from the South Pacific where it participated in an international operation that targeted illegal fishing and investigated the effect COVID-19 had on fishermen working the high seas.

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