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.
Implementation of seafood import controls
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 impact on seafood import controls ?
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 of U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP)?
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.