Are Port State Measures Enough to control IUU seafood imports into U.S.A: Next Steps ?

On October 22, 2015 the U.S. Senate passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act. The new Bill (H.R. 774) would provide more powers to NOAA inspectors to conduct thorough inspections and deny entry to suspected IUU vessels at U.S. ports. In this context there are several pros and cons that need to be taken into account with respect to the effectiveness of this new law.

USA imports more than its exports.

  1. Mislabeled seafood might be imported in significant quantities given the shortage of seafood inspections at major ports.
  2. More than 91% of seafood consumed in USA is imported; mostly from developing countries.
  3. Between 20% and 32% ($1.3–2.1 billion) of wild-caught seafood US imports are illegal.
  4. Significant portion of imported seafood is of farmed origin. But actual percentage of farmed products inspected for presence of antibiotics and other banned chemicals remains low. Less than 2% of the imported seafood is inspected by FDA and less than 1% is tested in laboratories.
  5. Bulk of the imported seafood imports into USA are processed fish making them vulnerable to mislabeling.
  6. Very few illegal fishing vessels on RFMO blacklists actually visit or land catches in U.S. ports. Most of the imported seafood arrives in Container ships from other countries.
  7. Countries, companies or fishing vessels identified for IUU fishing abroad have not received any trade sanctions.

Country of Origin labelling is not in place. Traceability issues still need to be addressed.

Advantages of the new Bill

  • The Bill would provide more powers to NOAA Law Enforcement officers and U.S. Coast Guard.
  • The Bill states that information on suspected IUU fishing vessels will be shared with other countries. However, the nature of procedures or current  data sharing protocols remain unknown.
  • The Bill would provide greater oversight for cheaper seafood imports of some commercial seafood (Alaska crabs from Russia) and other fish that is sold by U.S. companies.
  • The Bill could allow for better co-ordination of inspections among various U.S. Government agencies at ports.

Other Resources:

Brandon, H. (2015) U.S. rejecting fish imported from China and Vietnam at record rates – Fish contaminated with Formaldehyde, other harmful chemicals,    July 24, 2015.

Connie, R. (2014) Unsustainable Seafood: A New Crackdown on Illegal Fishing, Yale University, April 22, 2014.

Intrafish (2015) U.S. seafood imports up 6.6%, but buyers spend less, Intrafish, September 4, 2015.

NPR (2015) “The Great Fish Swap”: How USA is Downgrading its Seafood Supply, July 17, 2015.

Pramod, G., Nakamura, K., Pitcher, T. J., & Delagran, L. (2014). Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA. Marine Policy, 48, 102-113.

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Author: Pramod Ganapathiraju

Dr Pramod is Fisheries Consultant with extensive experience working with Governments, Researchers, NGOs and coastal fishing communities throughout the Asia and Pacific Regions, Africa, Caribbean, USA and Canada. He has published numerous articles in a range of peer-reviewed journals, books, drafted MSC Pre-Assessments and NGO reports. He has worked extensively on Illegal fishing and Monitoring Control & Surveillance projects with a focus on compliance and enforcement worldwide. With more than 18 years of global experience he is currently working on projects for various clients evaluating fisheries compliance, developing MCS operational procedures and estimating illegal fishing in several countries.Consulting and research experience spans more than 18 countries in Southeast Asia (India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka etc.), Western Pacific (Indonesia, Philippines), West Africa, Caribbean and North America. His consulting and research work is focused towards finding policy solutions to fisheries management issues, improving traceability, catch certification, fisheries governance and analyzing risks associated with illegal fishing products in the Global Supply Chains.