Conservation groups ask White House to take over SIMP review

A dozen conservation groups penned a letter to the White House
A photo of a cargo ship.

A dozen conservation groups penned a letter to the White House asking for the Executive Office of the President to take over a review of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) that was initiated by NOAA Fisheries late last year.

NOAA Fisheries terminated its plans for a limited expansion of SIMP a government program designed to crack down on illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing late last year in response to public input. NOAA’s expansion would have added new species to the program, which currently covers 13 species groups, but conservation groups heavily criticized the action for not being more ambitious and expanding the program to all imported seafood species.

In response to the public criticism, NOAA Fisheries officially withdrew its proposal in November 2023. Instead, the agency said it was launching “a broad program review.” While some groups praised NOAA for abandoning its limited expansion in favor of a program review that might lead to broader expansion, others expressed disappointment in the agency once again failing to concretely expand the program.

With limited faith in NOAA Fisheries’ ability to lead the review process, a dozen conservation organizations have signed a letter asking the White House to take over the review to ensure it is “fair and balanced with clear goals, objectives, and deadlines.”

“It is deeply troubling that NOAA has yet to provide any information about the SIMP review process, including the purpose and goals of this review and the timeline for completion,” International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) Deputy Director David McKean said. “It is time for the White House to get involved. Consumers have been clear that they want seafood that is environmentally sustainable and free of forced labor or other human rights abuses.”

“The primary goal of this review should be to provide a roadmap for expanding SIMP to cover all seafood and all production standards, including forced labor,” he added. “This work is critically important; there is no good reason not to make the program as comprehensive and strong as possible.” 

Signatories include Azul, Climate Crisis Policy, Conservation International, Creation Justice Ministries, Greenpeace USA, Oceana, Oxfam, Remineralize the Earth, Taproot Earth, The Earth Bill, ICAR, and the World Wildlife Fund.

“The same agencies that made the recommendations that led to SIMP must be involved in the evaluation of its future,” Oceana Campaign Director Max Valentine said. “It’s unacceptable that the current agency responsible for the future of SIMP is one that has failed to implement the program as it was intended – to detect and deter IUU products from entering U.S. commerce. We need an open and honest review process that involves the White House one that has the best intentions of our oceans, as well as fishers, businesses, and seafood consumers.” 

Outside groups and lawmakers have also increased pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden to expand SIMP significantly. Last month, a group of 100 chefs signed a letter organized by Oceana demanding that SIMP be expanded to all species.

“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.”

A group of senators joined in last month, penning a letter to NOAA Fisheries expressing concern over the organization's withdrawn expansion plan.

Photo courtesy of freedom100m/Shutterstock


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