Late last month, the public comment period closed on the President’s Task Force on Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud. During the comment period, the Task Force held four public meetings: two webinars and two in-person meetings, one in Seattle, Washington, and one in Washington, D.C. Oceana provided comments at both in-person meetings and submitted written comments as well. The Task Force, which was commissioned at the global Our Ocean conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in June, directs federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive framework aimed at combatting seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market. The Task Force has until mid-December to deliver its recommendations to President Obama on how to stop seafood fraud and illegal fishing.
Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. and ensure that seafood is legally caught and honestly labeled. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of more than 1,200 seafood samples were mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. This past June, Oceana released a comprehensive review of more than 100 studies from around the world, displayed on an interactive map—the first of its kind—that shows the global reach of seafood fraud.
More than 20,000 Oceana Wavemakers also took action to let the Task Force know that they want the seafood sold in the U.S. to be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.
At the public meetings and in writing, Oceana provided details on the scope of seafood fraud and offered solutions on how best to tackle the issue. Below is an excerpt of remarks given at the Washington, DC public meeting:
Seafood is one of the most popular foods in the United States, yet consumers are routinely given little or no information about where, when and how their seafood is harvested. Moreover, the information that is provided on seafood labels can be misleading or fraudulent. Despite growing concerns about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served the wrong fish—fish that could be a completely different species than the one they paid for.
With about 1,700 different species from all over the world now available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the average consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine which fish they are actually being served.
Seafood is traded internationally more than any other food, and the U.S. imports approximately 90 percent of its seafood. Today’s seafood is flown around the globe for processing after being caught or farmed, often crossing several international borders before reaching the end consumer. Increasing complexity and globalization of seafood markets have exacerbated fraud—as well as the unintentional selling of mislabeled seafood.
In order to ensure that all seafood sold is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled, we need to have more transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain, including full chain traceability. The information that the fishermen provide when they land the fish, like where, when and how it was caught, needs to follow that fish from boat to plate. This ensures that information is available to verify legality and identity of seafood in the supply chain, with some of that information available to the consumers so they can make informed decisions about the seafood they purchase to feed their families.
Fortunately, there are solutions to IUU and seafood fraud utilizing the existing authorities under federal fisheries, food and wildlife laws. As the Task Force considers how best to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud, Oceana recommends the following:
- Prevent illegally-caught fish from entering the U.S. market by requiring that all seafood imported into the United States or offered for sale demonstrate through appropriate catch documentation that it originated from legal fishing.
- Require that all seafood sold in the United States be fully traceable from the final point of sale back to the point of harvest, incorporating basic information about the who, what, where, when, and how of fishing, processing, and distribution.
- Improve consumer awareness by revealing basic information about a seafood product’s origins, such as type of fish, and where and how it was caught, to allow buyers to make informed decisions.
- Strengthen detection of IUU product by enhancing inspections, both at the border or in advance of entry into the U.S. market, including random audits of the supply chain.
- Improve interagency cooperation and planning with the sharing of resources, expertise, and real-time information, as well as increased and improved inspections to ensure cost-effective deterrence and prevention of these problems.
These recommended actions will help ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled while protecting honest fishermen and seafood businesses that are competing with illegal and fraudulent products; providing consumers with more information about the origins of their seafood; and helping stop IUU fishing, which harms the oceans, people’s livelihoods, and the food security of coastal communities dependent on sustainable fisheries.”
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, click here.