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US to clamp down on 'pirate' fishers

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled plans to draw up a national strategy to combat illegal fishing and vowed to use his executive powers to protect US waters.

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled plans to draw up a national strategy to combat illegal fishing and vowed to use his executive powers to protect US waters.

"We all know how fragile our planet can be," Obama said, opening the second day of a landmark conference on saving the world's oceans.

Leaders from more than 80 countries have gathered at the State Department for the two-day conference also uniting scientists and industry experts aiming to draw up an action plan to clean-up the oceans.

"Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify. Pollution endangers marine life. Overfishing threatens whole species as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods," Obama said.

In a video address, Obama said he had directed the US government to "build a national strategy to combat black-market fishing."

The US president was also to announce later Tuesday plans to declare a vast area of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to commercial fishing or energy exploitation, the Washington Post reported.

The proposal would expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine national monument from 87,000 square miles to around 782,000 square miles and create the world's largest marine sanctuary, the Post said, quoting White House officials.

But it could ignite a new battle with Republicans in Congress, angered by Obama again using his executive powers to bypass the legislative.

"If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of the resources we won't just be squandering one of the humanity's greatest treasures, we'll be cutting off one of the world's major sources of food and economic growth," Obama said.

Obama won support from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, an avid diver, who pledged his foundation would pump another $7 million over the next two years into projects to help the oceans.

"I've witnessed environmental devastation first hand," DiCaprio told the conference recalling two dives he made some 18 years apart on the Coral Reef in Australia.

"What once had looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones."

Environmentalists also welcomed Obama's plans as "a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide."

"This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood," said Beth Lowell, campaign director with the international advocacy Oceana group.

A recent report found that between 20-32 per cent of wild-caught seafood imported into the US in 2011 came from illegal or "pirate" fishing.

"Because our seafood travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the US market," Lowell said.

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