Consumer Organization Sign on Letter to Combat Illegal Fishing, Forced Labor, and Seafood Fraud
We are organizations who care deeply about the health of our oceans and the humane treatment of workers at sea. Thus, we are writing to urge your support in the fight against illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing, stopping seafood fraud, and expanding seafood traceability and transparency. Implementing these measures would protect American consumers and U.S. fishermen, restore healthy oceans, and level the playing field for responsible seafood producers that play by the rules. Our organizations urge you to cosponsor the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Protection Act to address these dire issues that impact American consumers and many others within our nation’s borders and beyond.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is off the books and can include fishing without authorization, ignoring quotas, fishing in closed areas or with prohibited gear, catching unmanaged species, and misreporting catch data. Up to 32% of the wild-caught seafood imported into the United States is a product of illegal or unreported fishing. According to the U.S International Trade Commission, the U.S. imported an estimated $2.4 billion worth of seafood imports derived from IUU fishing in 2019 alone. Until the federal government enforces measures to keep IUU products out of the U.S., the seafood we buy will continue to support the pillaging of the world’s oceans.
Human rights abuses are alive and well on the high seas, and many American consumers may be unwittingly supporting these crimes with their seafood purchases. A lack of visibility and accountability on the open ocean allows bad actors to operate outside the rule of law, and in some cases, they use forced labor and engage in other human rights abuses. No matter where in the world these abuses happen, the seafood caught or processed as a result of human trafficking and forced labor can still make its way to our shores, our grocery stores and our plates if the federal government doesn’t take action now.
Combating IUU fishing, stopping seafood fraud, expanding transparency and addressing forced labor and human rights abuses has strong bipartisan support. A recent Ipsos poll, commissioned by Oceana, an international conservation organization, found that 89% of registered voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood, and nearly 90% of voters also agree that the government needs to do more to ensure consumers are purchasing properly labeled seafood.
The opaque seafood supply chain can disguise the true origin of seafood, allowing IUU products to reach American consumers. Seafood’s complex and opaque path from boat to plate has weak links, offering opportunities for illegal fish to enter the supply chain and gain a new legal identity; in other words, limited traceability translates to seafood fraud. Oceana found that nearly one out of every three fish tested — in grocery stores and restaurants alike — were mislabeled. In many of these cases, consumers were served a lower-value fish than the one they paid for. In some cases, the mislabeling potentially hid health risks to consumers.
The U.S. government has taken some steps to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud, including establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016. SIMP requires some imported seafood at serious risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud to be accompanied by catch documentation about where and how it was caught and be traced from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border. While SIMP was a good step forward, these rules currently only apply to 40% of the value and volume of U.S. imports, and products are no longer traced once they have entered the country.
To truly be effective, SIMP must be expanded to all seafood, and traceability requirements should be extended throughout the seafood supply chain from boat to plate. Without catch documentation, transparency and traceability requirements applying to all seafood, fish illegally caught around the world will continue to enter the U.S. market and find its way onto consumer’s plates.
We need to demand more transparency and traceability for the seafood the U.S. imports because consumers deserve to know the full and accurate information about the seafood we eat, including the name of the species, and where, when and how it was caught. Consumers deserve to have seafood on their plates that is sustainably and ethically sourced. As a major seafood importer, the United States must ensure that U.S. dollars are not supporting crimes at sea, which impact the economy, environment and human rights. The U.S. has an opportunity to take swift action to ensure that all seafood is safe, legally and ethically caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled for the benefit of American consumers, fishermen, and seafood businesses. Through passing the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Protection Act, the United States can protect the oceans and those who depend on them.
Our organizations ask that you support actions to fight illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing, stop seafood fraud, and expand seafood traceability and transparency by cosponsoring the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Protection Act. This is the power we have to safeguard consumer health and safety, and protect our oceans along with those who work out at sea.
Thank you for your consideration. Join other organizations in standing up for safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled seafood today. Complete the form below to sign our letter in support to cosponsor the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Protection Act.