US takes stronger role in international fisheries

On the high seas, the U.S. has all hands on deck. Congress just passed landmark legislation giving the U.S. a formal role in international organizations that govern vastly important areas of the North and South Pacific Ocean, including the high seas adjacent to Alaska and the Pacific Islands and American Samoa, respectively.

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Further, sweeping improvements were made to existing international fishery management in the Northwest Atlantic, which includes waters off the coasts of New England and Canada. Collectively, this week's passage of three major bills demonstrates a renewed commitment to sustainably manage fisheries on the high seas and to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems from the effects of adverse fishing practices.

While the United States has long worked with other nations to improve international fisheries management, the new legislation ensures our country will fully and formally participate in developing standards for best fishing practices in two new international organizations in the North and South Pacific, respectively.

Until now, our status with these organizations has essentially been that of observer. With the new legislation, the U.S. will speak with an active global voice. We have new opportunities to learn, and a proud track record to share and leverage.

Championed by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Edward  Markey, D- Mass., among others, the new legislation will help keep America out front on sustainable fisheries management. It will also provide the U.S. with a voice and vote in developing best practices in waters rich in a diversity of marine life.

U.S. fishing interests will be considered in the development of fisheries management and conservation measures across the Pacific and Northwest Atlantic. Measures to build and sustain healthy fisheries can now be consistent across these vast seas.

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In the North Pacific, the U.S. will formally participate with other nations in recommending how fisheries can best be managed on the high seas. In the South Pacific, the U.S. has already provided leadership in the science and management of the diverse fish stocks found across the basin in seas from South America to Australia, while protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems.

The U.S. will now formally work with 14 other nations to continue building a transparent, accountable and inclusive organization in that region. In the North Atlantic, the U.S. has provided leadership in amending agreements regarding fisheries there to reflect modern approaches to conservation and ecosystem-based management.

This legislation further bolsters support for the recently enacted Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishery Enforcement Act of 2015.  With the goal of keeping illegally caught fish from entering our ports and illegal catch and product off the market, this new public law is yet another advance in the administration's efforts to ensure equity for U.S. fisheries.

The new protections are also far-reaching. Even in waters where the U.S. doesn't currently harvest fish, the legislation safeguards potentially valuable resource areas for future consideration.

With some of the largest and most successful fisheries in the world, the U.S. is a model of responsible fisheries management. This milestone legislation enables the U.S. to bring its sound science, technological advancements, and goal of implementing broad-scale and effective ecosystem-based management approaches to the global community.

Fast-growing demand for safe, sustainable seafood and accelerating environmental challenges mean we have no time to waste. NOAA joins our government, fishing industry and nongovernmental partners in recognizing the immense value of the new legislation.

Russell F. Smith is deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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