Feds propose regs to tackle seafood fraud

Advocacy groups say the proposal leaves a few loopholes

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Proposed new rules could lead to less seafood fraud. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Consumers in the U.S. may soon get some help in figuring out if their seafood comes from sustainable fisheries. A national group that’s been tackling illegal fishing this week announced a proposal for creating a U.S. seafood traceability — another step toward ensuring that global seafood resources are sustainably managed and not fraudulently marketed. The proposal aims to trace the origins of imported seafood by establishing reporting and filing procedures for imported fish and fish products entering U.S. commerce.

“Traceability is a key tool for combating illicit activities that threaten valuable natural resources, increase global food security risk and disadvantage law-abiding fishermen and seafood producers,” said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., under secretary of  commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “We are asking the seafood industry, trade and consumer sectors, our international partners and the conservation community to help guide us in creating an effective, efficient program.”

The proposed seafood traceability system will collect data about harvest, landing, and chain of custody of fish and fish products (initially limited to the list found here)  imported into the United States identified as particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

Similar information for domestically harvested seafood is already reported under numerous state and federal regulatory requirements, as detailed in the Federal Register notice. The proposal does not create any new reporting requirements for domestic landings of wild-caught seafood.

“This proposed rule is a critical first step in our efforts to create a comprehensive traceability program designed to prevent products from illegal and fraudulent fishing entering U.S. commerce,” said Catherine Novelli, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment. “Starting with our discrete list of at-risk seafood species, we will create an effective program to protect against practices that undermine the sustainability of our shared ocean resources.”

The proposed rule is open for a 60-day comment period, ending on April 5. During this time, NOAA Fisheries and the Department of State will host two webinars and a listening session at  the Seafood Expo North America on March 7 in Boston. All information and access to public comment venues are now posted on the new National Ocean Council Committee web portal.

Last year, the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud released its Action Plan, which included 15 recommendations to strengthen enforcement, to create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations, and to create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry in the U.S.For more information go to http://www.iuufishing.noaa.gov/.

Advocacy groups that pushed for more accountability said the proposal is a good step, but said even more measures are needed. The new rule is missing critical components to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

“Oceana welcomes the proposed rule  … However, the steps outlined will not fully solve these problems,” said Oceana’s senior campaign director Beth Lowell.

The requirements of the rule should apply to all seafood products, which need to traced throughout the entire supply chain to final point of sale; and if there is a phased-in implementation process, there must be a concrete timeline to expand the rule to all species and extend traceability from boat to plate in the final rule,” Lowell said.

“Illegal fishing is a dirty business that operates outside of the rule of law, hurting conservation efforts in addition to being associated with human trafficking, forced labor and other illegal activity. With more than 1,800 species of seafood available for sale to the United States, limiting traceability to only a group of “at risk” seafood leaves the rest of the seafood supply unguarded,” she explained.

In the proposed rule, the new tracking requirements stop at the first point of entry into U.S. commerce. Requiring documentation at the first point of entry into U.S. commerce may protect seafood buyers from purchasing some products caught by IUU fishing, but it does not stop seafood fraud, which can happen anywhere throughout the supply chain, even within U.S. borders.

In 2014, Oceana conducted the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date, compiling 103 studies in 29 countries and on all continents except Antarctica. Every study found some level of seafood fraud, demonstrating that it is not just an issue that narrowly affects a handful of species or regions.

In the U.S. alone, 50 different types of seafood have been found mislabeled with over 150 species substituted in their place. The U.S. currently imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, yet a recent study found that between 20-32 percent of wild-caught seafood crossing our borders comes from ‘pirate’ fishing.

Oceana’s investigations of fish, shrimpcrab cakes, and most recently salmon, in retail markets and restaurants found that, on average, one-third of the seafood examined in these studies was mislabeled—the product listed on the label or menu was different than what the buyer thought they purchased, often a less desirable or lower-priced species. Oceana has observed threatened species being sold as more sustainable, expensive varieties replaced with cheaper alternatives and fish that can cause illness substituted in place of those that are safe to eat.

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2 thoughts on “Feds propose regs to tackle seafood fraud

  1. The place to start is with this: The United States should Not be importing 90% of its seafood. Much of this imported fish and shellfish is harvested/farmed in environmentally irresponsible ways; other seafood imports are questionably sourced and/or mislabeled.
    Second, the U. S. should not be exporting seafood as much as it exports – much of which is high-end shellfish, salmon, tuna and other highly desirable species.
    Third, the U.S. should not be sending salmon (or any other seafood) out of the U.S. frozen only to be thawed and processed by cheap foreign labor and then reimported into the U.S.
    Fourth, the U.S. should put a complete moratorium on farmed salmon. No salmon farms in the U.S. and no imported farmed salmon. The product is an environmental nightmare for reasons too complex to get into here. Suffice it to say that the U.S. – specifically Alaska, Washington and Oregon – is capable of producing all the wild-caught salmon needed.
    And finally, YES, it is high time the Federal Government took seriously the matters of seafood sourcing and species identification. In the U.S. it is illegal (and rightly so) to put the label “Filet Mignon” on anything but filet mignon; you can’t label a cheap, pirated knock-off handbag Gucci. Yet the United States government Allows fish sellers at every level – including restaurants – to simple make up names for some species of fish, to knowingly or carelessly mislabel others, and to purchase and sell pirated fish or seafood that otherwise has no business in the marketplace. Jack Donachy

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