Derek Figueroa: Federal sanctions alone not the best solution on IUU

Published on
November 10, 2021
Sanctions on individual fishing companies by federal agencies alone may not be the best way to end the flow of seafood tainted by illegal fishing and forced labor entering the United States, according to Derek Figueroa, the incoming chair of U.S. seafood industry trade group National Fisheries Institute and the president of Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.-based Seattle Fish Company.

Sanctions on individual fishing companies by federal agencies alone may not be the best way to end the flow of seafood tainted by illegal fishing and forced labor entering the United States, according to Derek Figueroa, the chair of U.S. seafood industry trade group National Fisheries Institute and the president of Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.-based Seattle Fish Company.

In the past year, U.S. authorities have taken punitive action against several foreign fishing companies they have accused of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and labor abuses. In December 2020, executives from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China-based Pingtan Marine, a distant-water fishing firm listed publicly on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, were issued visa bans by the U.S. State Department. In May 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposed a withhold-release order on Dalian Ocean Fishing, effectively barring the company’s products from entering American ports. CBP has also issued WROs to Taiwanese and Fijian vessels in the past year.

“We need to avoid seemingly well-meaning efforts that will not drive the change we need,” Figueroa told SeafoodSource. “The federal government has good tools at its disposal to put pressure on certain nations that don’t regulate IUU fishing.  That process can be slow, however, and the longer-term solution, in my opinion, is a risk-based approach by species and a joint response – using appropriate pressure from the federal government combined with market pressure from individual companies and through coordinated efforts through the National Fisheries Institute.” 

New tools like blockchain have been touted as another solution to illegal fishing and opaque supply chains, but Figueroa said uptake of the technology has not been widespread.

“Blockchain is interesting and is a credible technology that has shown promise in many areas,” Figueroa said. “While used extensively in other industries like finance, it has been slow to take off in seafood at the restaurant level. The challenge is that for blockchain to be truly effective, each link in the supply chain must input data regarding the movement of the product and we haven’t seen that level of adoption. I see blockchain continuing to live as one of the tools in traceability efforts, but it will take a commitment by a larger operator to require blockchain for this to gain real traction.”

Figueroa said contrary to some expectations, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually resulted in an increase in the sustainability and traceability of the U.S. seafood supply.

“We have certainly experienced increased product cost and supply disruptions,” he said. “Interestingly, however, we’ve seen customers double down on efforts to stand out and provide a safe and credible dining experience. Those efforts include sustainability, but also encompasses product innovation, menu changes, increased food safety, sustainability, free of forced labor, and more emphasis on responsibly caught products. So, in a way, the disruption has instead focused effort on adoption of sustainability and traceability.”

Photo courtesy of Seattle Fish Company

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