More than 100 chefs have signed a letter organized by nonprofit Oceana calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), which imposes traceability requirements on some seafood species to prevent illegal fishing.
SIMP currently covers just 13 species or species groups, but many fishery observers and lawmakers have called on the program to expand.
“Chefs don’t want to serve their customers seafood sourced from illegal fishing or human rights abuses,” Oceana Campaign Director Max Valentine said. “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 SIMP, ensuring that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”
The Oceana letter included chef signatories from 41 states and the District of Columbia.
“By expanding SIMP 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 said. “[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.”
NOAA Fisheries proposed an expansion to SIMP in 2022, but the move was criticized by lawmakers and conservation organizations for being too narrow. In November 2023, NOAA Fisheries withdrew the proposal following extensive public feedback. The regulatory agency said it plans to conduct a broad program review instead of moving forward with the limited expansion.
NOAA Fisheries’ decision drew mixed reactions, with some praising the agency for opening the door to a bigger expansion of the program, while some criticized the agency for backtracking. Earlier this month, a group of Democrat senators wrote to NOAA Fisheries expressing concern over the withdrawal and calling for an expansion of SIMP.
“As the United States imports or reimports more than 85 percent of its seafood, SIMP should be strengthened and expanded to provide consumers with confidence that the imported seafood they purchase at their retail markets or in restaurants is legally harvested and truthfully represented,” the lawmakers said. “Unfortunately, a recent study by the U.S. International Trade Commission found that the U.S. imported more than USD 2.4 billion [EUR 2.2 billion] worth of illegal seafood annually in 2019, highlighting the need for strong and urgent government action to prevent illegal products from entering the U.S. market.”
The U.S. senators who signed the letter are Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Senator Roger Wicker (R-Missouri), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries