U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program – Viable or Unviable?

Trading in IUU seafood and mislabeled products distort markets and efforts of legally bound seafood companies and traders that have invested massively in both buying legal quotas for fish stocks as well as technologies associated with harvesting (licenses, VMS, Observers, etc.) and trading in domestic and international markets (E-trade and electronic tools for boat to plate traceability for convenience of the regulators and consumers). More than 92% of seafood consumed in USA is imported from other countries making it one of the major market states as far as global seafood trade is concerned. Illegal and unreported catches represent 20–32% by weight of wild-caught seafood imported to the USA (Pramod et al., 2014).

USA is also perhaps the only country after European Union (bloc of countries) to promulgate new rules towards reducing imports of IUU seafood from developing countries. The process of reaching this ambitious goal included formation of “Presidential Task Force on Combatting IUU Fishing” on 17 June 2014 which identified 15 priority species for the import traceability program over a two-year period. The Presidential Task Force also conducted a broad public and industry engagement process that lasted several months to refine the identification process for the 15 products.

15-proudcts-in-the-simp

Implementation

On 8 December 2016, U.S. Government released the Final Rule to implement Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to address illegal fishing. The seafood traceability program (SIMP) aims to improve collection of data on “harvest, landing, and chain of custody of certain fish and fish products imported into the United States that have been identified as particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and seafood fraud” (NOAA 2016). The SIMP would apply traceability requirements from point of harvest in origin country to point of entry in U.S. Commerce (seaports or airports where the product first enters USA). The seafood imported into U.S. “will be required to keep records regarding the chain of custody of the fish or fish product from harvest to point of entry into U.S.” (NOAA 2016). Except for “shrimp and abalone” all products listed under SIMP will be required to comply with this Rule from 1 January 2018.

Lawsuit

On 6 January 2016, National Fisheries Institute (NFI) in association with, 6 Seafood companies (Alfa International, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Handy Seafood, Pacific Seafood Group, Trident Seafoods, and Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants) and 2 West Coast Associations (Pacific Seafood Processors Association and the West Coast Seafood Processors Association) filed a lawsuit in a federal court against NOAA and Obama Administration claiming that the new rule is not based on risk assessment and that SIMP will impose financial burden on the seafood industry (Seafood news 2017).

Future?

The lawsuit against implementation of SIMP raises several questions as (1) the 15 species/product combinations identified in the import monitoring program (SIMP) represent only 40% of the seafood that enters U.S. commerce, although several iconic species such as sharks and tuna are part of the program (2) When seafood companies are confident of their procurement practices, documentation and sourcing why do they want the SIMP not to be implemented when on the contrary SIMP can raise the credibility for their products against other certifications such as Marine Stewardship Council which require significant investments in the whole supply chain. (3) If risk assessment is an issue why was it not addressed during the 6-month consultation process by the Presidential Task Force and NOAA.

With the Trump Administration assuming power on 20 January 2017, several doubts now linger on whether the SIMP would be implemented or replaced with a new IUU policy.

References:

NOAA (2016) Final Rule to Implement a Seafood Import Monitoring Program, NOAA Fisheries, 8 December 2016.

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.

Seafoodnews.com (2017) NFI Sues NOAA Over New Seafood Fraud Import Rules Claiming Regulatory Overreach, Seafoodnews.com, 9 January 2017.

Thailand and the UN – Port State Measures Agreement: Will Accession facilitate more inspections at Thai ports?

Thailand is a major player in global seafood trade and processing of fishery products. Among the major fish producer countries Thailand was ranked 14 in 2012 with capture fisheries landings of more than 1.6 million tonnes. However, Thailand exhibits its dominance as the third largest exporter of seafood in the world (8.1% of the global seafood exports valued at 8079 million US$ in 2012) after China and Norway.

With bulk of the production dependent on imported raw material from other countries ports play a major role in entry of products for both legal and illegal origin. Currently, very little is known about the extent of inspections in Thai fishing ports? With a sprawling network of fishing ports spread across Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, more than 15 ports cater large fishing vessels while 12 smaller ports cater imports for smaller vessels from Malaysia, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Vessels wishing entry are required to inform authorities at least 48 hours in advance and both Thai port authorities and the Department of Fisheries have the authority to deny entry for foreign vessels. In most cases, fishing boats are allowed to land.

In order to strengthen catch inspections Thailand is also developing an electronic system for the traceability of fish and fishery products. Under the new Royal Ordinance on Fisheries B.E. 2558 (2015) that came into effect from November last year more intense inspections are required to deny entry to illegal vessels and strengthen inspections at ports.

Thailand became the 26th nation to ratify the Port State Measures Agreement. Recent ratifications include Guyana, Dominica, Sudan, Tonga and Vanuatu. As of 16 May 2016 thirty countries have ratified PSMA and the agreement would come into force on 5 June 2016.

On 6 May 2016, Thailand announced that it has acceded to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. A press statement said:

“Today, Thailand formally accedes to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, underlying Thailand’s strong commitment to work with the international community to address this common challenge. The Royal Thai Embassy in Rome deposited Thailand’s instrument of accession to the FAO today.” 

On 10 May 2016, H.E. Mr. Tana Weskosith, the Thai Ambassador to Italy, and Mr. Sompong Nimchuar, Minister (Agricultural Affairs) / Permanent Representative to FAO, met with H.E. Mr. José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the FAO, to present the Instrument of Accession of the Kingdom of Thailand to the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing (PSMA).

Challenges:

  1. Imports of huge volumes of frozen and processed seafood from foreign countries poses challenges for inspectors at ports. More than 50% of the imports comprised of tuna, followed by frozen fish (38%), cephalopods (6%) and shrimps, etc.
  2. Multiple agencies are involved in fisheries inspections at ports before cargo is cleared by customs.
  3. There is very little information on current state of inspections at Thai ports (EU – Yellow card has led to progress on several fronts in both administration and legal contexts).
  4. There are significant landings of fish and seafood products of Thai origin in fishing docks spread along both coasts. Domestic fishing fleet of more than 50,000 trawlers. VMS transponders have already been installed on 2100 trawlers above 60 gross tonnes.
  5. There is currently no data on number of foreign flagged reefers and fishing vessels visiting Thai ports and what percentage is inspected each year.

Other Resources:

FAO (2016) Ground-breaking illegal fishing accord soon to enter into force, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 16 May 2016.

MFA (2016) Thailand accedes to the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, May 11, 2016.

IUU Risk Intelligence (2016) Port State Measures Agreement – 25 parties on the table, IUU Risk Intelligence, March 31, 2016.

IUU Risk Intelligence (2015) Why more incentives for fishing industry in Thailand won’t help in controlling IUU Fishing, IUU Risk Intelligence, December 31, 2015.

SOFIA (2014) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Port State Measures Agreement – 25 parties on the table

On 30 March 2016, Gambia’s national assembly ratified the UN agreement on Port State Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU). This brings the number of parties formally ratifying the treaty to 25.

Pursuant to Article 29, the Agreement shall enter into force thirty days after the date of deposit of the twenty-fifth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Director-General of FAO. The UN Port State Measures Agreement would formally come into force on 5 June 2016.

Here is a list of 30 parties and the dates on which the deposit of ratification to the agreement were provided to the Director-General of FAO.

Australia (20 July 2015)

Barbados (2 February 2016)

Chile (28 August 2012)

Costa Rica (4 December 2015)

Cuba (25 March 2016)

Dominica

European Union – Member Organization (7 July 2011)

Gabon (15 November 2013)

Gambia (30 March 2016) – Date of ratification in the Gambia National Assembly

Guinea Bissau

Guyana (7 March 2016)

Iceland (16 June 2015)

Mauritius (31 August 2015)

Mozambique (19 August 2014)

Myanmar (22 November 2010)

New Zealand (21 February 2014)

Norway (20 July 2011)

Oman (1 August 2013)

Palau (30 November 2015)

Republic of Korea (14 January 2016)

Saint Kitts and Nevis (9 December 2015)

Seychelles (19 June 2013)

Somalia (9 November 2015)

Sri Lanka (20 January 2011)

Sudan

South Africa (16 February 2016)

Thailand (10 May 2016)

Tonga

USA (26 February 2016)

Uruguay (28 February 2013)

Vanuatu

 

The Fu Yuan Yu fleet – Illegal Chinese driftnet activities on the high seas

In January 2016, the Sea Shepherd’s patrol vessel “Steve Irwin” detected a fleet of six longliners fishing on the high seas in a remote part of southern Indian Ocean. It is rare to see tuna vessels fishing in such remote location so “Steve Irwin” pursued the fleet it saw on its radar and intercepted one of them (Fu Yuan Yu 073). The vessel was actively fishing and upon detection by the Sea Shepherd vessel abandoned its fishing gear “a large 5 kms long driftnet”. Steve Irwin decided to remove the illegal gear and document the extent of damage caused by the driftnet operations. One driftnet that was hauled by Steve Irwin revealed extent of the damage. Catch retrieved from a single 5 km long illegal driftnet included a brown seal, dolphin, sharks and other pelagic fish.

On 20 December 1991 U.N. passed Resolution 46/215 banning operation of large-scale pelagic high seas drift-net fishing and to ensure that a global moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing is fully implemented on the high seas of the world’s oceans and seas, including enclosed seas and semi-enclosed seas, by 31 December 1992.

The Fu Yuan Yu fleets appears to be Chinese fleet that does not appear on list of authorized vessels on any of the Regional Fishery Management Organizations (IOTC, WCPFC, CCSBT, etc.) managing high seas fish stocks. The fleet of six vessels detected by Sea Shepherd (Fu Yuan Yu 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76) if indeed Chinese pose a grave concern with respect to transparency of Chinese distant water fleet operations. (“On 13 February 1993, the Ministry of Agriculture promulgated a regulation prohibiting large-scale driftnet fishing on the high seas and notified local governments and fishing companies. The PRC announced that the regulation would be enforced by confiscating the catch, fishing gear and related income and imposing a fine; detaining or revoking the fishermen’s license; and “bringing to account by administrative means the chief executives of the entities owning the vessels” (UN Secretary-General’s Report 1993). Chinese Government through its MOA issued two circulars one in November 1990 “Circular on the UN Resolution on the Ban of Large scale Driftnet on the high Seas” and another one on 8 June 1991 “Circular on the Restriction of Largescale Driftnet Fishing on the High Seas” asking vessels to strictly abide by the conditions in their fishing permit and refrain from using driftnets on the high seas.

On January 5, 2016 from an office in USA, several thousand miles away a data analyst named Bjorn Bergman from SkyTruth blogged about unusual vessel activity by a fleet of six vessels operating in a remote area of southern Indian Ocean. The SkyTruth team was observing the vessels for more than a month near the same area where Sea Irwin spotted the six Chinese vessels. The activity of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet was strange as they were more than 500 miles away from known fishing vessels operating in the southern Indian Ocean. Skytruth shared the vessels tracks of the six vessels with several RFMOs, but none was able to confirm the activity. In a brazen attempt, the six vessels appeared near the search site for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 without fear of being identified by three MH370 search vessels (Havila Harmony, Fugro Discovery & Fugro Equator).

Another Skytruth article on January 25, 2016, Skytruth blogged that the Chinese fishing vessels were targeting small pelagic fish.

If as reported the Fu Yuan Yu vessels 070, 071, 072, 073, 075, 076 are targeting small pelagic species (not tuna) then they would not need to be licensed by an RFMO (Regional Fishery Management Organization) in the Indian Ocean. However, we are still curious about the fishing methods of this fleet, described as lightning purse seiners. The lightning presumably refers to use of light attraction in their fishing operation. Each parent vessel appears to be associated with a string of 5 or 6 AIS beacons attached to some type of gear. The vessel and gear can be drifting and strung out in a 30 mile string as seen in the recent screenshots below. Or at other times each parent vessel and set of associated gear is in the same location. This pattern made us think of setting and retrieving a longline but these vessels have now been reported as purse seiners so the fishing operation is puzzling. Below you will see track for one of the fishing vessels, Fu Yuan Yu 070, as well as what we assume is a piece of associated fishing gear (070 04). The two tracks can be seen to overlay closely. We are looking for further information to clarify the fishing operation taking place

Images from Skytruth showing (1) activities of Fu Yuan Yu fleet near the MH370 search area; and figure (2) string of fishing gear associated with the fleet.

In fact, based on information from Sea Shepherd video dated March 16, 2016 we now know that they (Fu Yuan Yu fleet) might be fishing using driftnets and not targeting small-pelagics as previously thought. One of the pictures from Bjorn Bergman’s post shows that the vessels were likely transferring catches to another fish carrier “Liao Chang Yu Yun 88” which left the fleet after two weeks. Another reason the vessels activities can be deemed suspicious is because of how far they were operating from other tuna fleets in remote Indian Ocean for weeks at a time.

On a March 1, 2016 blogpost Skytruth states that the Fu Yuan Yu fleet might have moved north. Content from the March 1, 2016 post shows that the vessels have either switched off their AIS transponders or even tampered with vessel transponders to disguise their current position.

AIS tracks of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet showing probable tampering of AIS signals after detection by Sea Shepherd patrol vessel “Steve Irwin” (Source: Skytruth, March 1, 2016)

Sitting in a small home office in Vancouver, using different sources I am able to make sense of four different reports months apart as I check illegal fishing activities on a day-to-day basis. When I overlay the information from all four reports from (Sea Shepherd) and (Skytruth) I can draw conclusions to report that all the six Chinese vessels were probably engaged in illegal driftnet fishing catching bluefin tuna, sharks and indiscriminately killing marine mammals using banned fishing methods. Upon detection by Sea Shepherd the vessels probably fled the Southern Indian Ocean area and headed north (See Skytruth article). It is probably impossible to know the current locations of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet as they show tampered AIS signals. As an IUU fishing researcher I will follow up on this story and track AIS signals of the fleet. The six vessels need to be boarded and inspected to identify the extent of violations and to identify the vessels owners of this fleet. It is not wrong to surmise that the vessels might have changed their identity by now.

The above story throws light on three conventional problems:

  1. AIS or VMS signals alone are not enough to identify illegal fishing operations on the high seas.
  2. At sea direct presence and enforcement are necessary to achieve meaningful surveillance on the high seas.
  3. Nations lack physical capacity to control activities of their distant water fleet and exercise flag state responsibility.

Sources:

U.N. General Assembly (1991) U.N. Resolution 46/215, 20 December 1991.

Sea Shepherd (2016) Shocking Footage of Illegal Fishing in the Indian Ocean, March 15, 2016.

Skytruth (2016) Fishing fleet at MH370 search site may have moved North, March 1, 2016.

Skytruth (2016) Update on Fishing Fleet at MH370 Search Site, January 25, 2016.

Skytruth (2016) Unusual Vessel Behavior in the MH370 Search Area, January 5, 2016.

Cover photo (Source: Sea Shepherd)

UN Port State Measures Agreement could be ratified soon ?

South Korea became the 19th country to ratify the UN Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) on 14 January 2016. The spree of recent ratifications is seen as a stride in the right direction. If the present pace continues the treaty might come into effect by the first week of June.

The PSMA would come into force on 5 June 2016. As of 16 May 2016,  30 parties have ratified the PSMA agreement.

The UN Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing was approved by the FAO Conference at its Thirty-sixth Session (Rome, 18-23 November 2009) under paragraph 1 of Article XIV of the FAO Constitution, through Resolution No 12/2009 dated 22 November 2009.

UN- PSMA (Ratifications) May 16, 2016Countries that have ratified the PSMA

Progress: 23 Parties have signed the agreement until today  include Angola, Australia, Benin, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, European Union, France, Gabon, Ghana, Iceland, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Russian Federation, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Turkey, USA, Uruguay. The Agreement shall enter into force thirty days after the date of deposit with the Director-General of FAO of the 25th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. With the latest spree of ratifications 30 parties have ratified the PSMA.

Countries with big import markets such as Japan, Taiwan and China should also become a party to bring meaningful change and improve traceability.

In this context however it is surprising to see that progressive countries like Canada and France are still lagging behind in the ratification process although both signed the treaty as early as 2010 (Canada and France signed the treaty on 19 November 2010). Brazil signed the treaty on 22 November 2009 but is yet to follow up with the ratification process.

UN - PSMA (Countries that have signed but not ratifed it yet)

Countries that have signed the PSMA but not ratified it yet

This fact assumes importance as five countries have directly ratified the treaty without initially signing it just within the last two months. The notable five include Republic of Korea (14 January 2016), Saint Kitts and Nevis (9 December 2015), Palau (30 November 2015), Somalia (9 November 2015), Costa Rica (4 December 2015) and Mauritius (31 August 2015).

Canada, France, Russia, Indonesia, Ghana, Peru and Brazil should expedite the ratification process so that the PSMA will come into effect as soon as possible.

FAO (2016) Status of the Port State Measures Agreement, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 14 January 2016.

Why more incentives for fishing industry in Thailand won’t help in controlling IUU Fishing

Thai Government intends to spend 215 million baht (approx. 5.9 million) in a new buyback scheme to buy fishing boats from vessel owners. In open access fisheries where there is hardly any credible policy on building of new boats and with more than 30,000 unregulated fishing boats operating from Thai shores the Government decision is truly a wastage of public funds.

Purchase value is pegged at half the median value for licensed fishing boats and 25% of market value for unlicensed fishing boats.

The purchased vessels would be sunk leading to wastage of tax payers money. Thailand could learn a lesson or two from Indonesian Government which has sunk unlicensed vessels to send a strong signal to vessel owners and fishing companies.

Thai Government has deliberately delayed implementation of several measures allowing vessels to register several months after promulgating laws banning their very activities. Recently CCCI (Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing) delayed implementation of fishing net mesh sizes up to April 1, showing that it is not serous about implementing serious changes to its fishing policy. Thai fishing companies and vessel owners exercise political leverage and recent changes brought in by the Military Government do not suggest any serous change in the management of Thai fishing fleet perhaps the biggest in South Asia.

Problems plaguing Thai fishing fleet

  • Actual size of the fishing fleet remains unknown (estimated at more than 100,000 fishing vessels while official figures put them around 57,000).
  • Vessel registration procedures are lax.
  • Fishing industry is heavily subsidized leading to low operating costs and high profits for vessel owners who often build new boats with such profits.
  • Fishing crew are mostly of foreign origin and often trafficked without pay from Myanmar, Cambodia and other neighbouring countries (U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest tier on its Trafficking in Persons Report 2014).
  • Lack of enforcement and credible penalties for apprehended Thai fishing vessels. Most of penalties for illegal fishing vessels are low and never made public. Vessel seizures are never reported for even the biggest offenders.

 

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.