The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that roughly 90% of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. A new study in the journal Marine Policy found that as much as a third of that is caught illegally or without proper documentation. IUU fishing (illegal, unreported and unregulated) also known as pirate fishing captures everyone from consumers and supermarkets to seafood companies in its nets.
Pirate fishing deprives legal fishermen and coastal communities of up to $23 billion of seafood and seafood products annually according to NOAA. It is also of concern to scientists as the world’s oceans can barely sustain legal seafood harvests. The Pew Charitable Trust’s Ending Illegal Fishing Project found that 85% of the world’s commercial seafood grounds “are fished up to their biological limits or beyond.”
The United States has lagged behind Europe in taking action about this practice but the U. S. Senate recently ratified the international Port State Measures Agreement, which would empower port officials to prohibit foreign vessels that are suspected of illegal fishing from receiving port services and access. The U.S. government is also being encouraged to pass the proposed Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act. If passed it would require traceability throughout the seafood supply chain, improve inspections and provide more information to consumers at the point of purchase according to Pramod Ganapathiraju, a co-author of the Marine Policy study.
Stores such as Whole Food Market combat pirate fishing by buying products that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which has strict chain of custody requirements that prohibit illegal fishing. The Company also sends buyers directly to docks to pick up fish when it is brought in. They also use a software program called Trace Register that tracks seafood at every step of the supply chain. Costco, Trader Joe’s, Darden and other chain and independent restaurants have started adopting measures similar to Whole Foods.
The consumer can also play a part in combating this problem by asking questions about the source of the seafood they are purchasing.