Celebrity chefs ask US Congress to end illegal fishing, seafood fraud

Published on
October 21, 2021
Celebrity chefs and restaurant owners, including Tom Colicchio, have called on the U.S. Congress to take further action to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

Celebrity chefs and restaurant owners including Tom Colicchio and Rick Moonen have called on the U.S. Congress to immediately end illegal fishing, seafood fraud and human rights abuses in the seafood industry.

In a letter to Congress, more than 200 chefs and restaurant owners demanded increased traceability of seafood imports and transparency at sea “to ensure that all seafood served in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”

“Our ability to reliably provide sustainable and ethical seafood to our customers is at risk. More than a third of global fish populations are overfished, and illegal fishing poses a grave threat to their survival,” the chefs wrote.

When vessels ignore regulations and international boundaries, fish with prohibited gear, or target prohibited species, they undermine sustainably managed fisheries, the chefs wrote.

“The catch from these vessels also floods the U.S. market with billions of dollars of illegally caught seafood every year, undercutting U.S. fishermen,” the letter states.

Illegal fishing can also be a driver of forced labor and other human rights abuses, they said.

“Human trafficking is common in the illegal fishing industry, and many crew members are subject to despicable conditions, held against their will, and deprived of wages,” the letter states. “This system brazenly exploits some of the world’s most-vulnerable citizens and has gone largely unchecked.”

Chefs are challenged with sourcing seafood that is not from illegal sources, since as much as a third of the seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled as a different species, “a result of the opaque and complex path that seafood travels from boat to plate,” the chefs wrote.

“Chefs want to be able to verify that their seafood is accurately labeled, legally caught, and ethically sourced. The Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a documentation and traceability system for imported seafood, was created to exclude illegally caught and fraudulently labeled fish from U.S. markets,” they said.

However, because SIMP only applies to a handful of seafood types, more than 60 percent of seafood imports are untraced, they contended.

“Major loopholes in SIMP’s reporting requirements still allow illegally caught seafood to make its way into our kitchens and onto our customers’ plates,” the chefs wrote.

Chefs signing the letter include 45 chefs from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force on sustainable seafood, along with Dan Barber, Bun Lai, Jacques Pepin, Virginia Willis, and other well-known chefs.

“When I serve seafood to my customers, I want them to be confident that it was caught legally and that everyone involved in its catch and production was treated humanely,” said Colicchio, the founder of crafted hospitality and regular presenter on Top Chef. “Right now, that is all but impossible. It doesn’t have to be this way because the U.S. government can step up efforts to stop illegal fishing and require that seafood workers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.” 

The chefs backed the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was amended by the House Committee on Natural Resources this week, which would provide consumers with more information about the seafood they eat, require fish to be tracked from boat to plate, increase vessel transparency, prevent illegally caught and sourced seafood from entering the U.S., and help end forced labor at sea, the chefs wrote.

The bill would also allow the U.S. to take stronger action against countries that fail to address IUU fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood sector, they said.

Photo courtesy of Sam Aronov/Shutterstock

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