U.S. Government Takes Measures to Make Seafood Harvesting More Sustainable

There are a number of reasons why we consumers should be concerned about illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. According to NOAA ninety percent of seafood in the U.S. is imported and about 1 percent of seafood imports are inspected. Americans in 2013, ate 4.6 billion pounds of seafood. A study done by Oceana found between 22 to 32 percent of wild caught seafood imported to the U.S. comes from illegal fishing. They also found that 25 percent to 70 percent of popular fish such as red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod are mislabeled in the U.S., disguising cheaper and less desirable fish.

Seafood fraud allows black market fish to enter U.S. commerce, deceiving American consumers about the quality, quantity origin and sustainability of the fish they eat. Globally, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud caused significant economic losses, while undermining economic opportunities for U.S. fisherman and others engaged in legal fishing, according to the National Marine Fisheries. A study in the journal Marine Policy estimated that 85 percent of the world’s commercial fish stock is being harvested up to or beyond its biological capacity.

In 2014, the Obama administration announced an initiative to track every fish sold in the U.S. Part of the initiative established a task force that included representatives from fourteen federal agencies led by the departments of State and Commerce, which oversees NOAA. They were to develop recommendations to better combat seafood fraud and illegal fishing. This March, the Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud, released an action plan to prevent seafood fraud by better tracking where seafood is caught and shipped to and within the U.S. Its recommendations included strengthening enforcement, creating and expanding domestic partnerships to detect black market fishing and seafood fraud, and increasing the amount of information available on seafood products through additional traceability requirements to track fish from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce, to ensure that it is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. The Task Force recommended starting with the species most at risk for trafficking. Efforts will be explored by the Administration to make point of origin and means of production information available to consumers. The plan also speaks to how the U.S. will work with international partners to address IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

The Task Force recommendations do not require any changes in legislation but instead will involve interagency and international collaboration. They will also tighten enforcement of existing laws that already ban importing illegally caught seafood.

In anticipation of the recommendations, President Obama requested $3 million in his annual budget proposal for the Commerce Department, which has primary responsibility to police fish-trafficking crime. The money will pay for more enforcement officers.

By December 2016, the Task Force will identify the next steps in expanding the program to all seafood entering U.S. commerce, taking into consideration input from stakeholders, as well as experience from the first year.

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