US moves to stop fishing crimes by tracking seafood imports

BOSTON – The Obama administration is launching a fish tracking system that would eventually tell consumers where their fish was caught, processed and stored, in an effort to eradicate illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews announced the initiative yesterday (March 15), describing an action plan to stamp out imports of illegally caught fish.

Ninety per cent of seafood in the US is imported, and about 1 per cent of seafood imports are inspected, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The steps the United States has taken to be a leader in environmental stewardship are paying off,” Mr Andrews said. “However, our nation’s fisheries remain threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, which negatively affects our markets.”

While seafood industry groups are sceptical about potentially burdensome and expensive tracking mandates in some fisheries where there are no problems, environmental organisations praised the new rules that will roll out over the next few years.

“Today’s announcement is proof that the Obama administration is committed to stopping seafood fraud and ending global illegal fishing,” said Ms Beth Lowell, a senior campaign director of non-profit Oceana.

An Oceana study found between 20 to 32 per cent of wild-caught seafood imported to the US comes from illegal fishing, either from fishing in closed areas, catching threatened or endangered species or using banned gear that damages marine ecosystems.

The illegal haul costs an estimated US$32 billion (S$44.5 billion) a year.

NOAA administrator Kathleen Sullivan told US seafood industry leaders the Obama administration does not want to add an additional burden to industry, and said they plan to work with the Department of Homeland Security to create a trusted trader program.

The new strategy does not require and changes in legislation, but instead will involve interagency and international collaboration. Ms Sullivan said they will also tighten enforcement of existing laws that already ban importing illegally caught seafood. AP