Today, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources voted to advance bold new legislation to stamp out illegal fishing and human rights abuses in the U.S. seafood supply chain. The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Garret Graves (R-La.) in May, is a comprehensive bill to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, expand transparency, and stop seafood fraud in the United States, while strengthening U.S. leadership on issues that threaten our oceans, consumers, fishermen, and human rights.
Oceana applauded the committee’s decision, releasing the following statement from deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns, Beth Lowell:
“Seafood should not come at the cost of human rights or healthy oceans. The United States has an opportunity to lead in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and human rights abuses by ensuring that our market is closed to illegally sourced products. By expanding import requirements and vessel transparency, requiring full-chain traceability, and giving the U.S. more tools to fight IUU fishing, the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act offers a promising pathway to combat illegal fishing, which threatens the future of our oceans and those who depend on it for food and livelihoods. This bill will ensure that U.S. dollars are not supporting illicit activities at sea, while also protecting U.S. fishermen who are following the rules and U.S. consumers who are falling victim to a bait-and-switch. We applaud Reps. Huffman and Graves for their leadership in helping to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, protect workers at sea, and provide more transparency in the seafood supply chain. It’s time for the United States to get tougher on illegal fishing, which starts by ensuring that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”
A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from IUU fishing in 2019. 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 give illegal fishermen an unfair advantage over those who play by the rules.
IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive. In 2016, the U.S. government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. In 2019, Oceana released the results of a seafood fraud investigation, testing popular seafood not covered by SIMP, and found that 1 in every 5 fish tested nationwide was mislabeled, demonstrating that seafood fraud is still a problem in the United States. Seafood fraud ultimately hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules; masks conservation and health risks of certain species; and cheats consumers who fall victim to a bait-and-switch.
In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters say they support policies that prevent seafood that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor from being sold in the U.S. Eighty-three percent of voters agree that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability.
Oceana is working to help stop illegal fishing, increase transparency at sea, and require traceability of all seafood. To learn more about the campaign, please click here.