Recommendation 12: enforcement - enforcement authorities

Work with Congress to the extent necessary to broaden agency enforcement authorities, including those to 1) search, inspect, and seize seafood, both at the point of entry into U.S. commerce (whether from foreign or domestic sources) and throughout the supply chain; and 2) pursue a full range of judicial enforcement options for trafficking and other violations related to IUU fishing and seafood fraud.


Agencies need to leverage existing authorities through stronger coordination and, where necessary, seek additional enforcement tools to address growing concerns over IUU fishing and seafood fraud, in particular the illegal entry of seafood products into U.S. commerce. At present, there are crucial gaps in federal authorities that prevent agencies from monitoring the entirety of the seafood supply chain. Although NOAA has responsibility for implementing and enforcing an increasing number of U.S. obligations related to implementation of catch documentation and trade tracking schemes, many of NOAA’s existing enforcement authorities are focused on at-sea and dockside enforcement that is more appropriate to the enforcement of harvesting violations. DHS (CBP and ICE HSI), FDA, NOAA, and USDA have robust regulatory authorities applicable at the point of entry of seafood, and USDA has additional authorities at the point of food processing. However, to more effectively curb the entry of IUU and fraudulently marketed seafood products into U.S. commerce, agencies need the ability to inspect and verify the legality of fish and fish product throughout the supply chain. For example the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) prohibits the import of fish taken in violation of foreign law but effective enforcement of this prohibition requires the cooperation and coordination with border control agencies such as ICE HSI and CBP.

Tools such as increased penalties and administrative and judicial enforcement mechanisms are also vital to combating IUU fishing and seafood fraud. However, a number of key statutory authorities that deal with IUU fishing and seafood fraud do not have adequate penalties or administrative and judicial mechanisms, while others that could be used expressly exempt fisheries violations. For example, the Lacey Act, which prohibits the importation of fish and fish products taken or imported in violation of a foreign law or treaty, and the Antarctic Living Marine Resources Convention Act, both have very low civil penalty maximums. In addition, many of the statutes implementing international fisheries agreements have limited criminal provisions that are not applicable to the harvest or trade of fish, but only to conduct such as assault, harassment, obstruction, and false statement. Tools such as increased civil monetary penalties, clear forfeiture authority, and increased authority to impose criminal fines and penalties, including through the application of laws related to money laundering and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), are needed to deter illegal activity motivated by the large profits that may be associated with IUU fishing and trade in the resulting product. ICE HSI and CBP can leverage their existing Title 19 seizure and forfeiture authorities, and ICE HSI can leverage its authority and jurisdiction over criminal customs violations as specified unlawful activities under the Money Laundering Control Act and as predicate offenses under RICO. If collaboration with ICE HSI or CBP is not possible, these tools would provide law enforcement officials within other agencies and prosecutors with greater ability to punish illegal activity with penalties that provide an effective deterrent.

Implementation Steps

Agencies involved: NOAA, DOJ, DHS/CBP, DHS/ICE, and other NOC Committee agencies as relevant
  • Review pending investigations and enforcement actions and leverage other agencies’ authorities for successful outcomes.
  • Continue to work with Congress to identify and propose necessary law enforcement tools and to strengthen and pass legislation to address IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  • By July 2015, NOAA and DOJ will hold briefings for key Congressional Committees, Members, Caucuses, and staff with agency leadership, as well as enforcement experts and stakeholders, to explain the rationale and need for appropriate enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  • Use existing fora such as Capitol Hill Oceans Week in June 2015 to continue to educate Congressional members, staff, and constituents about IUU fishing, seafood fraud, and the need to enhance enforcement authorities.

Many state and federal agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Commerce work together to inspect the seafood we buy. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Actions and Announcements

USDA Department of Commerce Department of Defense Department of Health and Human Services Department of Homeland Security Department of the Interior Department of Justice Department of State  Federal Trade Commission USAID