By Chris Adams

One in five people in the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein – a figure that is far higher in some countries.

So what happens if people don’t have fair access to those fish because of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing?

That is the focus of work by Sandy Aylesworth of the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization. Aylesworth described for National Press Foundation fellows the range of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing – something that is a problem in the U.S. and around the world.

Aylesworth said estimates on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is 20 to 50 percent of the total global catch. While such estimates are all over the map, and pinning down an illegal activity is difficult, there’s no question it is a major problem.

“It is significant, and it’s certainly having an important impact on sustainable fisheries,” she said.

Among the main drivers: the “economic advantages of non-compliance” – meaning it pays to cheat. Growing demand in the U.S., Japan, China and the European Union. Regulatory gaps in the U.S. and elsewhere. Low enforcement levels at sea and at ports. And the lack of full traceability along the seafood supply chain.

The U.S. government in 2014 took steps to address the issue, with a presidential task force during the Obama administration. The task force involved 12 agencies and ended up with a range of recommendations.