Oceana Calls on Federal Government to Expand Traceability as U.S. Demand Drives Illegal Seafood Trade
BY: Natalia Turkel
When you eat seafood, do you ever think about where it came from and how it traveled to your plate? Your tuna roll’s journey, from the sea to your plate, may be murkier than you could ever imagine, potentially involving a web of illegal fishing, crime, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses.
In the U.S., your meal could be part of the billions of dollars’ worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy essential habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing but also threaten the livelihoods of fishers internationally. Unfortunately, some fishing companies rely on forced labor and other human rights abuses as well.
Additionally, fish caught through IUU fishing practices can also be given a new identity through seafood fraud. The United States took measures to combat seafood mislabeling and IUU fishing in 2016 by establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP). The program requires importers to provide documentation for 13 species and species groups to show that the seafood was caught legally—but this only covers about 40% of seafood imports, and that information does not continue through the entire supply chain.
So still, the seafood on your plate may not be what it is claimed to be: Oceana tested seafood not covered by SIMP and found that one in five seafood products tested from U.S. grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi bars was mislabeled and swapped for a different fish species. Without traceability requirements, this mislabeling can occur anywhere in the supply chain as information isn’t required to follow the fish from boat or farm to plate.
Oceana’s new report, Fishing for Trouble: Loopholes Put Illegally Caught Seafood on Americans’ Plates, exposes how the illegal seafood trade, fueled in part by U.S. demand, hurts local fishing communities around the world. The report shows that gaps in SIMP allow illegally sourced seafood to enter the U.S. market.
Today, nearly 60% of U.S. seafood imports remain unchecked for IUU fishing, and this allows seafood fraud and illegal practices to continue at home and abroad, driven by demand in U.S. markets. From its inception, the intent was to expand SIMP to cover all seafood. As the world’s largest seafood importing country, the United States has the responsibility and capacity to finish the job, expand SIMP, and prevent American dollars from incentivizing bad behavior.
All seafood imported into the United States should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled. To that end, Oceana makes the following recommendations:
- Expand the catch documentation and traceability requirements of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to all seafood.
- Improve SIMP implementation — review and update key data elements and critical tracking events to collect the right information and then use the data to guide risk-based screening and enforcement.
- Extend traceability from the boat or farm to the dinner plate and provide consumers with basic information about the seafood they purchase.
- Build in mechanisms to address forced labor and other human rights abuses.
Read the Report: https://oceana.org/ExpandSIMP
Take Action: https://act.oceana.org/page/77308/petition/1