Presidential Task Force Releases Bold Recommendations for Tackling Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing - Oceana USA
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December 16, 2014

Presidential Task Force Releases Bold Recommendations for Tackling Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant, Washington, DC

Today, President Obama’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud delivered its first recommendations for tackling this issue, which included domestic and international measures to help ensure that seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.  Oceana commends the recommendations and says they are a real step forward for fighting illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the U.S. and around the world.

“We must to break the unintended link between U.S. dollars and pirate fishing and provide long-lasting protections for consumers.” Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell said. “Oceana applauds the presidential Task Force for taking the initiative to work collaboratively to solve the global problems of illegal fishing and seafood fraud.”

President Obama established the Task Force in June at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, and directed federal agencies to work together for six months to develop recommendations to combat seafood fraud and illegal fishing. The Task Force gathered information from public comments, 32 different countries, and more to create these recommendations, and also analyzed the government’s current involvement and authority in these issues.

The Task Force’s recommendations center around four main themes:

  • Combat illegal fishing and seafood fraud internationally
  • Strengthen enforcement to tackle illegal fishing and seafood fraud;
  • Create and expand partnerships among state and local governments, industry, and NGOs to tackle the issue;
  • Create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood to keep illegally-caught seafood from entering the marketplace;

“The task force recommendations are only a first step,” says Lowell. “The President must now ensure that they are fully implemented. Additionally, the task force recommends starting with risk-based traceability to the first U.S. sale, then eventually expanding to full chain traceability for all seafood. The transition from risk-based to comprehensive full chain traceability needs to be swift to increase the safety net for consumers, fishermen, and seafood businesses.

In a literature review accompanying a map released this year—which is the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date—Oceana found that seafood fraud—the practice of mislabeling or misrepresenting seafood fraud—occurs globally. It can start on the high seas when commercial fishing vessels engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing—and then go on to sell this illegally caught fish in the market place—or at other steps in the supply chain, such as grocery stores or restaurants. Often, seafood can be labeled wild caught when it is farmed, or branded to be a different species than it actually is.

These practices have a range of negative consequences for consumers and the oceans. Swapping out fish for another species can pose a risk to public health—especially when pregnant women are looking to avoid fish high in mercury, or others with allergies try to avoid certain fish species. For example, Oceana’s 2013 study on seafloor fraud found king mackerel—a high mercury fish that the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women, children, and other sensitive populations to avoid—sold as grouper, a lower mercury choice. Furthermore, mislabeling or falsifying information allows illegally caught fish to be sold in the marketplace.

“These recommendations are an important and bold first step. Oceana is now calling on President Obama to implement these recommendations swiftly and to their fullest extent.”

Since 2011, Oceana has worked to stop seafood fraud and ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled. In October, Oceana released a new study on America’s favorite seafood, shrimp, and found that it was misrepresented in 30 percent of the 143 products tested. In Oceana’s similar 2013 study, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 fish samples it tested nationwide were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

Oceana also submitted comments to the President’s Task Force earlier this fall, recommending five main steps they should take in combatting seafood fraud. Click here to learn more about Oceana’s campaign.