Last week was big for our oceans. Following a two-day summit at the State Department that brought together world leaders, NGO representatives, marine scientists, and other stakeholders to address key ocean issues, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced important new initiatives to protect our oceans from a number of serious threats. In particular, he announced a new effort to fight seafood fraud and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing that will include establishing full-chain traceability for seafood sold in the U.S. Oceana commends the Administration for taking these important steps forward.
The Administration’s announcement could not have been possible without the leadership of certain Members of Congress who have long championed ocean issues and introduced seafood fraud and traceability legislation. In 2012, following reports on the incidence of seafood mislabeling in the Northeast, then-Congressmen Edward Markey (D-MA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act to combat seafood fraud and keep illegally-caught fish out of the U.S. market. Congressman Markey reintroduced the legislation in 2013 (H.R. 1012) and Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S. 520). Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) took over leadership of H.R. 1012 once Congressman Markey was elected to the Senate. Both the House and Senate bills have bipartisan support.
Oceana strongly supports the SAFE Seafood Act, as we have been working to highlight the problems of seafood fraud and IUU fishing for many years. Our 2013 report of nationwide seafood testing found that one in three samples of the commonly-swapped species we tested was mislabeled. In some cases, the numbers were much higher: 54 percent of tuna samples and 87 percent of red snapper samples were mislabeled. Aside from the economic and health risks involved when consumers unknowingly purchase a fish they thought was another fish, there is evidence that this fraud can disguise illegal fishing. Tracing a fish from “boat to plate,” improving border controls, and ensuring that consumers have adequate information about where their fish comes from is the best means of breaking the unintended link between illegal fishing and U.S. dollars.
Oceana is grateful to Senator Markey, former Congressman Frank, Senator Begich, and Congresswoman Capps for leading this effort on the Hill to highlight the importance of seafood traceability as a means to protecting law-abiding fishermen, consumers, and our oceans. These Members and their staff have worked tirelessly to draft thoughtful legislation and build a foundation of support that includes fishermen, seafood businesses, and environmental organizations alike. We commend both the Administration and Congress for working to ensure that our seafood is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.