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.



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.


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).


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.


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.

3 Chinese squid jiggers in South African waters – Illegal fishing or innocent passage ?

In recent months, the Fu Yuan Yu fleet has come into focus for illegal tuna fishing in the southern Indian Ocean. Back in March this year i wrote about the Fu Yuan Yu tuna fleet which was spotted illegally fishing for tuna in the southern Indian Ocean. Although Sea Shepherd patrol vessel pursued the fleet and documented their illegal activities, none of the 6 tuna longliners was ever detained or penalized by the Chinese Government for illegal driftnet fishing and unregulated fishing on the high seas.

I spoke to one source who stated that they often avoided tuna vessels from other countries and often operated in remote locations. “The number of vessels from Fu Yuan Yu company are many. No one knows the exact number, or their names. They often transfer their catches to motherships on the high seas, while some larger vessels bring their catches directly into Chinese ports on the mainland. There are no reports of boarding of any of the “Fu Yuan Yu” tuna  and squid jigger fleet so there is no knowledge on kinds of gear or species targeted by this fleet. They often declare their catches from high seas so no country can intervene to prove legitimacy of the catches onboard”

Very little is known about the Chinese company, ownership, management, movements and activities of the “Fu Yuan Yu” fleet in the high seas.

According to another source, the Fu Yuan Yu fleet is owned by Dongxinglong Ocean Fishing Company Ltd, based in Fu Zhou, Fujian Province, China. The company operates a fleet of trawlers, squid jiggers and tuna longliners in Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

On May 22, 2016 three Chinese Squid jiggers were detained by South African patrol vessel on suspicion of illegal fishing in South African EEZ. All three jiggers were escorted to Port of East London for further investigation. A combined total of nearly 600 tonnes of squids were found onboard all three vessels. Both Fu Yuan Yu 7880 (Call sign BVSK7) and Fu Yuan Yu 7881 (BVSL7) have Gross registered tonnage of 1497, are flagged to China and authorised to fish for squid in SPRFMO regional fishery management organization area until March 31, 2017. The SPRFMO vessels list shows their registration details as ((MIN)CHUAN DENG(JI) (2014)FT-200050HAO). Although Run Da 617 has a Indonesian captain, it is registered to China under the SPRFMO vessel list.

I think the South African Government should have more information on the ownership, vessel registration and operational activities of the fleet based on inspections of documents and technical equipment onboard detained vessels. Current investigations by DAFF at ports could involve inspections of cargo seized to ascertain whether squids in the fishing hold were caught within or outside South African EEZ. If the investigations by DAFF and South African Government reveal that squids in the holds of all three squid jiggers was not caught in the South African waters, they could go scot free.

A) Current information suggest that the trio did not inform South African authorities when they entered the EEZ. If it was just innocent passage the question would then arise as to why they did not allow boarding and gave hot pursuit when patrol vessels confronted them at sea.

B) When the three Chinese flagged vessels were detected at sea last weekend in South African waters, photographic evidence suggests they were brightly lit at night as if they were actually fishing. If they were passing through South African waters, they certainly don’t need to be brightly lit when passing throughout the deck. They also failed to co-operate and did not respond to radio communication.

C) Can the three jiggers be identified fishing illegally using AIS signals within South African EEZ. Is there any evidence of fishing gear and fishing activity. According to statement from Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo “Two foreign vessels were spotted on a navy vessel’s automated identification system on the Eastern Cape coastline on Friday. “We established that the vessels had gear on board and we verified that they had not applied to enter into our Exclusive Economic Zone, which created suspicion. The seas were rough, which made it impossible for our inspectors to board the vessels. Our fishery control officers instructed the vessels through radio communication to sail to East London Port, but they did not co-operate. The department’s patrol vessel and a navy vessel engaged in a high-speed chase to intercept the foreign vessels which were attempting to flee. The vessels stopped and switched off their engines, but on Sunday at 02:00 restarted them and tried to flee towards the east.”

The South African government has been silent so far on what they have discovered so far during questioning of Chinese Captains, documents seized and VMS data, vessel tracks, catch documentation, license information, flag registry etc. All three captains have been produced in court, but there is no information on allegations for which the vessels have been detained.



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).


  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)


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)


South Africa (16 February 2016)

Thailand (10 May 2016)


USA (26 February 2016)

Uruguay (28 February 2013)



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.


Belize ends open access to marine fisheries to prevent overfishing

Belize is preparing to roll out the innovative “Managed Access Program” which would soon end open access fishing by more than 3000 licensed commercial fishermen. A soft roll-out of the program is expected in January 2016 for the test run with full run-out expected by June 2016. The Fisheries Department would use the first 6 months for public education and gathering feedback on implementation. The Managed Access Program is likely to decrease illegal fishing without compromising the right to fish in traditional fishing grounds.


The programs outlines 9 Managed Access Areas to cover 15 fishing communities. Over a period of more than 2.5 years Belize Fisheries Department has already conducted consultation with stakeholders to design the nine user zones. The social marketing campaign helped in creating awareness for fishers to respect geographical boundaries, seasonal fishing restrictions, catch size and some quotas. The program has already been implemented by Belize Fisheries Department in Port Honduras & Glover’s Reef marine reserves since 2011.

How does the Program Work

In the first step fishers who should be given access to a particular zone (9 Zones – See the map below) are identified by forming Committees. Each Committee is composed of Licensed Fishers, Fishing co-operatives, Tour Guide Associations, NGOs and the Fisheries Department.

The Committee then identifies fishers for each zone who meet the qualifying criteria which include: (a) hold a commercial fishing license;  (b) license holder should be a Belizean resident; (c) have a traditional history of using the fishing ground and landing such catches in Belize.

The Committee finally recommends the identified permit holders to the Fisheries Administrator at the Fisheries Department, who then grants the licenses. Patrols at sea by Fisheries Department and other licensed holders are then used to ensure that only Managed Access Program license-holders are conducting commercial fishing with the specified zone.


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