More than 100 Chefs Across the United States Call On President Biden to Expand Seafood Traceability - Oceana USA

More than 100 Chefs Across the United States Call On President Biden to Expand Seafood Traceability

Press Release Date: January 25, 2024

Location: Washington, D.C.

Contact:

Cory Gunkel,Megan Jordan | email: cgunkel@oceana.org,mjordan@oceana.org | tel: Cory Gunkel,202.868.4061

 More than 100 chefs across the United States sent a letter to the White House today urging President Biden to strengthen transparency and traceability in the seafood industry. The letter, which features signers from 41 states and the District of Columbia, calls on the U.S. government to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP). 

The program requires catch documentation and traceability for some seafood species at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. However, it currently applies to just 13 species and species groups, covering less than half of U.S. seafood imports. 

Citing concerns over illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud, chefs, restaurant owners, and culinary directors signed the letter asking President Biden and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to expand the program to include all seafood.  

“By expanding the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to all species, requiring importers to report additional catch data, and including labor conditions in reporting requirements, NOAA will close loopholes that enable IUU fishing and forced labor,” the letter reads. “[The program] also helps prevent a ‘bait and switch’ in seafood supply chains, protecting businesses and consumers from seafood fraud. NOAA should also increase traceability throughout the seafood supply chain by requiring catch documentation for all imported seafood and traceability from boat to plate. These measures will allow chefs to confidently stand behind the seafood we serve.”   

In November 2023, NOAA withdrew a proposal to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which would have increased the number of species and species groups subject to the program’s requirements between 4%-8%. NOAA is now reviewing the program, and its status moving forward remains uncertain. NOAA’s reversal came directly after new evidence was unveiled exposing widespread human rights abuses within the global seafood supply chain. 

“Chefs don’t want to serve their customers seafood sourced from illegal fishing or human rights abuses,” said Oceana Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine. “Until all the seafood we eat is held to the same standard, we won’t truly know what’s on our plates when we sit down at a restaurant or shop at a grocery store. It’s time for the U.S. government to level the playing field and defend, expand, and strengthen the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, ensuring that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.” 

To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to expand seafood traceability and transparency at sea, visit here. 

Background: 

In the United States, up to 85% of the fish we consume is imported, with up to 32% of wild-caught imports being products of illegal or unreported fishing. A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (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 important habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. For illegal fishers, 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 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 from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor. 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.