Congressmen file bill to combat IUU fishing, increase SIMP enforcement

Two U.S. congressmen have filed legislation that would expand the role of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to include all species.

U.S. Representatives Jared Huffman (D-California) and Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) unveiled the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act on Tuesday, 11 May. The purpose of the legislation is to better connect illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing to forced labor practices in the seafood trade, and to bolster the effectiveness of SIMP.

“Our new legislation tackles IUU fishing to protect human lives, promote responsible fishing around the world, and level the playing field for U.S. fishermen,” Huffman, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, said. “Not only do we need to ensure an ethical seafood supply chain, but we also need to stop IUU products from entering our markets and competing with those who follow the rules and who keep our domestic fishing industry sustainable.”

If enacted into law, the bill would expand the country’s authority to revoke port privileges to boats connected with IUU practices. It also would expand the definition of IUU to include labor violations, including human trafficking.

Additionally, it would allocate funding for new Automatic Identification Systems and revise current requirements on where U.S. boats must use the system, both in the U.S. and open waters.

“Seafood sourced from illegal fishing or at the expense of human rights have no place in the United States,” Oceana Deputy Vice President for U.S. Campaigns Beth Lowell said. “Illegal fishing threatens the future of our oceans and those who depend on them. U.S. dollars should never support illegal fishing or injustices happening at sea, and consumers should be protected from seafood fraud.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of seafood products, and it’s estimated that about 11 percent of what hit American ports in 2019 was the result of IUU practices. Those products had a value of USD 2.4 billion (EUR 1.99 billion).

Shrimp is already included in the list of species covered by SIMP, but John Williams, the executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, said the bill would create “practical solutions” to counter a significant threat to American seafood businesses. Shrimp imports are estimated to account for about USD 500 million (EUR 414 million) of all U.S. seafood imports, according to the SSA.

“The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act represents an essential step forward in eliminating IUU seafood imports from our market, leveling the playing field for the U.S. shrimp industry,” he said. “No commercial fishing industry has been more harmed by IUU seafood than the shrimp industry and we are grateful for the leadership shown by representatives Huffman and Graves in developing this legislation.” 

Sally Yozell, the director of the Stimson Center’s Environmental Security Program, said in a statement that there’s a lot to do to in order to eliminate human rights abuses within the industry. The center has called for increasing enforcement of SIMP and expanding its personnel to ensure the U.S. prevents more illegally harvested seafood from entering the market.

“American consumers have a right to be confident that the fish they purchase at a restaurant or in a market is legally harvested and not a byproduct of human rights abuses and forced labor conditions,” Yozell said. 

Members of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) have expressed opposition to the expansion of SIMP in the past.

“Our membership opposes any expansion of SIMP. The program has not proven its mettle in any way, and it generates job-killing compliance costs and headaches for our companies,” NFI Vice President for Government Affairs Robert DeHaan said. “There are far better ways to address IUU fishing. We look forward to continuing to make our case against this badly flawed regulation.”

If SIMP does end up getting expanded, DeHaan said that the industry would have time to react.

“If, regrettably, an expansion were to occur, that would take several years, and it would require formal full agency rulemaking to execute,” he said. “Affected companies – including, by the way, many U.S. domestic harvesters – would have two to three years to plan.”   

 Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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