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Navigation Brief

This is an e-newsletter first published Nov. 12

ALEXANDRIA – Good Evening, Drifters

Those of you who have followed my work for some time may recall my quixotic quest to get the military to pay attention to the issues with our surge sealift fleet. Well, I have a new one for you: Fisheries. Fishing accounts for 20 percent of the protein in about half the world population’s diet. And, if you’ve not noticed, there are a ton of us.

When the Chinese Fishing Fleet descended on the Galapagos Islands two months ago, clearing out a natural wonder of its fish stocks, it hit me all at once: Fishing is on the fringes of my beat all the time. Many of the clashes between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea have to do with fishing. When, at the end of the Obama Administration, we looked very close to coming to blows with China, it was over Chinese incursions into Scarborough Shoal.

The Chinese were threatening to begin land reclamation on the feature that is used by Filipino fishers but has been under constant patrol by the Chinese Coast Guard since a 2012 standoff with Manilla over fishing rights there. And while China’s seeking to create facts on the ground that benefit its absurd nine-dash-line claims, at the center of the issue for the Philippines was fishing. You may recall, the late Sen. John McCain penned a dire op-ed warning the China could be preparing to move on Scarborough Shoal, something he would occasionally do when he had pretty good information something might be about to happen.

This is an issue we need to pay closer attention to. Luckily, the Coast Guard is way ahead of me. In September, the service released an Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook document. I appreciate if you read to this point once you realized I was talking about commercial fishing tonight. I’ll try and make this guided tour of the Coast Guard’s plan to address the issue pretty quick!

Let’s Drift!


IUU Matters to I and U

Let’s do this in bullet-point format to keep it breezy.

Here is the full report for your reading enjoyment if you want to circle back. Or you could just read my summary here!

The United States Coast Guard Vision to Combat Global IUU Fishing

What’s the problem?

  • About 1 in 5 fish in the world is illegally caught, which drives down the cost of fish and hurts those who play by the rules.
  • 93 percent of the fish in the world are classified as fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. We are losing the world’s fish.
  • About 80 percent of the fish we consume hear in the US are not easily traceable, meaning that we are almost certainly eating illegally caught fish among the lawful catch.
  • And most importantly, illegal fishing is raising tensions all over the globe, increasing the possibility of conflict that will drag in the United States. In the worlds of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz’s opening letter: “IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. 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.”
  • Left uncheck, declining fish stocks will drive poor fishers to crime, a cycle we saw play out in Somalia in the 1990s and 2000s. “These practices destroy not only the resource today, but also its ability to be sustainably harvested for years and decades to come. Left without alternatives, these conditions entice more and more fishers to seek alternative sources of income such as piracy, drug trafficking, and human trafficking, creating a dangerous downward cycle furthering regional instability,” the Coast Guard report reads.

What can we do about it?

  • The Coast Guard see’s this as a global mission where it has global responsibilities.
  • “Today, the world’s oceans require a global approach to preserve territorial integrity and international norms, maintain an unimpeded flow of commerce, and uphold freedom of use and access to shared resources,” the report reads. “U.S. Coast Guard efforts to counter IUU fishing contribute directly to broader efforts in the National Security and National Defense Strategies to ensure rules-based order is upheld in the maritime domain. These same efforts also uphold free and open systems of governance that enable legal access to fisheries. In the face of increasing challenges to global food security and the growing demand for marine resources, the U.S. Coast Guard will advance global efforts to confront IUU fishing to preserve the long-term strategic and economic viability of global fish stocks”

Lines of Effort

  • Promote Targeted, Effective, Intelligence-Driven Enforcement Operations: Essentially what this effort means is twofold. The first part is that the Coast Guard is going to use its intelligence assets to help document illegal fishing and help other nations do enforcement and be able to confront lawbreakers through official channels. It also calls for the USCG to “coordinate across the U.S. Government to target areas susceptible to IUU fishing and otherwise increase our law enforcement presence on the high seas and in the EEZs of partner nations.”
  • The USCG is planning to push “intelligence information to the widest audience, prioritizing unclassified information in order to uncover vessel beneficial ownership, criminal organizations, and flag States that are actively undermining global fisheries management.”
  • Expanding multilateral fisheries enforcement: Basically the Coast Guard wants allies to devote more assets to this. But beyond that, the service wants to secure agreements from at-risk countries to allow them to enforce their laws. “Adding counter-IUU fishing to existing U.S. bilateral enforcement agreements and pursuing new agreements with flag States and countries in priority regions,” the document calls for.
  • Include counter-IUU training into joint Navy and Coast Guard exercises.

And that’s it! Told you I’d make it quick.

On to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

Straight to the links tonight.

More Reading

Good read from Megan at USNI on carrier use: No Margin Left: Overworked Carrier Force Struggles to Maintain Deployments After Decades of Overuse

NAVSEA: Cruiser Modernization Delays Biggest Hurdle to On-Time Maintenance

More 9-month deployments: Guided-missile cruiser Antietam wraps up 260-day deployment

A tug with a conscience: Navy debuts cleaner-burning tugboats in Washington state

Italy plans new destroyers for 2028 delivery


David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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