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Federal ‘Sea Scout’ Program Uses Tech to Combat Illegal Fishing

The program will boost the use of technological tools to better coordinate and share information among governments and other officials who are fighting against illegal fishing.

(TNS) — WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday announced plans to further crack down on illegal fishing, a global problem that can hurt both fishing communities in impoverished nations and the seafood industry in the United States.

As part of a package of initiatives announced in a video message to participants at a major oceans conference in Chile, President Barack Obama announced new steps to tackle illegal fishing. They include the launching of a program called “Sea Scout,” designed to increase cooperation among nations seeking to identify and prosecute illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing around the globe.

Experts say the problem is extensive around the world.

The Pew Charitable Trusts said the issue is difficult to quantify, but that experts estimate that illegal and unreported fishing cost the global economy up to $23 billion annually.

And the people hurt by the illegal fishing include both big U.S.-based commercial fishing operations, which are forced to compete against illegal imports, and coastal communities in poor nations whose people depend on the seas to survive.

“The impact is more than the dollar amount,” said Pew’s Daniel Schaeffer, who spoke from Chile at the oceans conference. “It’s a loss of a food source, a loss of employment.”

Oceana, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, notes that illegal fishing undermines “honest fishermen” as well as seafood businesses by making them compete with cheaper, illegal and mislabeled products.

One recent study found that between 20 percent and 32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported into the U.S. came from pirate fishing. Oceana has found imported species being sold as local, said Dustin Cranor, Oceana’s communications director.

Beth Lowell, a senior campaign director for the organization, added in a statement that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing represents somewhere between 13 percent and 31 percent of the global fish catch each year.

The Sea Scout program, she said, “provides a real opportunity to improve coordination and information sharing around the world as a way to combat illegal fishing.”

According to the White House, the Sea Scout program will boost the use of technological tools to better coordinate and share information among governments and other officials trying to combat illegal fishing. Among other things, the program will identify regional hot spots where illegal fishing is known to be most severe, the White House said.

Another part of the Obama administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also announced new steps to target illegal fishing. Among the programs it is pursuing is one that is capable of detecting lights — including those used by fishing boats — in order to target potentially illegal activities.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.