Last week the House Natural Resources Committee made a crucial move to keep illegal fish out of the United States market. The committee voted unanimously to advance Congresswoman Bordallo’s bill, H.R. 774, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, which contains vital implementing legislation for the Port State Measures Agreement (PMSA).
The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) is part of a larger international effort to close the world’s ports to foreign vessels that engage in IUU fishing to prevent black market seafood products from entering the legal seafood trade. In order for the agreement to take effect, 25 countries must ratify it, and at present 11 countries have signed the agreement. In April 2014, the U.S. Senate voted to give consent for the United States to join the agreement, but ratification is only complete once Congress passes the essential implementing legislation. The U.S. House of Representatives is making progress; however, the U.S. Senate has yet to introduce similar legislation.
IUU fishing is a global problem that contributes to between $10 to 23 billion in economic losses and comprises 20 percent of the global catch, according to recent estimates. Not only does IUU fishing harm fish populations, damage marine ecosystems and hurt honest fishermen and seafood processors in the United States, but Oceana has found IUU fishing also can lead to seafood mislabeling and inflated prices. IUU fishing can also allow harmful seafood that falls short of FDA standards to enter the U.S. market.
Since 2011, Oceana has been actively campaigning against seafood fraud, releasing a number of reports demonstrating the magnitude of this problem, and finding:
- 1 in 3 of the seafood samples Oceana tested were mislabeled according to FDA guidelines (2013).
- 30 percent of the shrimp Oceana tested in the Gulf were misrepresented (2014).
- 38 percent of crab cakes listed as “Maryland crab cakes” in the Maryland, Virginia, D.C. region were not, in fact, the iconic blue crab (2015).
In June 2014, President Obama established a Presidential Task Force on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud, which released an Action Plan in March highlighting fifteen strong recommendations to close our markets to illegal fishing and mislabeled seafood. The first recommendation is, “Work with Congress to pass implementing legislation for the Port State Measures Agreement,” recognizing the need for this binding multilateral agreement to combat IUU fishing.
While ratifying PSMA will provide a necessary tool to combat pirate fishing, much more must be done to ensure American consumers can have confidence that the fish they buy is legally caught and properly labeled. To stop illegal fishing, the United States needs to fully close its market to pirate fishers by requiring ALL seafood to be tracked from the bait to the dinner plate, ensuring that it’s legally caught, safe to eat and honestly labeled.
The Presidential Action Plan lays the framework for seafood traceability for at-risk species from the time the bait is put in the water to the first point of entry into the United States signaling the Administration’s commitment to addressing seafood fraud and IUU fishing. The second phase of the implementing the action plan needs to extend traceability and documentation requirements to all seafood sold in the U.S. and pass the relevant information on to the consumer. All seafood should be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. Passing the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 would be a strong step in the right direction.
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.