A federal court recently upheld the U.S. Seaport Import Monitoring Program, which will require some imported seafood at risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud to be fully documented and traced from the fishing vessel to the U.S. border.
The federal Commerce Department program, also known as the Seafood Traceability Rule, takes effect January 2018 and will require seafood importers of species like tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper and blue crab to provide specific information before their products can enter the U.S.
The documentation includes what kind of fish it is, as well as how and where it was caught or farmed.
“This ruling is a huge win for U.S. fishermen and consumers who are cheated when illegally caught or mislabeled seafood products make their way into our markets,” said Beth Lowell, senior director for illegal fishing and seafood fraud at Oceana, an international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation.
“It’s time for imported seafood to be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish. It’s time to level the playing field for U.S. fishers and reduce the risks facing U.S. consumers. All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled,” Lowell added.
The National Fisheries Institute and eight individual seafood companies filed a lawsuit in January claiming, among other things, that the final Seafood Traceability Rule was signed by “a low-level bureaucrat” without the authority to do so.
“This is a major victory against the illegal fishing that’s devastating many fish populations and killing imperiled wildlife like turtles and porpoises around the world,” said Miwok Sakishima, Oceana program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Massive fishing operations working totally outside the law are rampant on the high seas and in foreign waters. This rule helps ensure that American consumers aren’t supporting such deplorable fishing practices.”
The U.S. (as a whole) imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, yet a recent study estimated that between 20 and 32 percent of wild-caught seafood crossing our borders comes from IUU fishing.
Oceana’s investigations of fish, shrimp, crab cakes and, most recently, salmon in retail markets and restaurants found that, on average, about one-third of the seafood examined was mislabeled; the product listed on the label or menu was different than what the buyer thought they had purchased, often a less desirable or lower-priced species.
According to Oceana’s global review of seafood fraud in 2016, mislabeling rates in the European Union (EU) dropped following the implementation of similar measures to combat IUU fishing, from 23 percent in studies conducted before 2012 to 8 percent in 2015.
An Oceana poll from September 2016 found that 83 percent of Americans support new requirements focused on eliminating seafood fraud in the U.S.