Industry group wants to stop IUU crab from this country


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
August 12, 2015

A leader in the Alaska crab fishing industry is calling for support this week for efforts to control Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) crab fishing in Russia, which is costing the industry millions of U.S. dollars in lost revenue.

Mark Gleason, executive director of the trade association Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, has issued a whitepaper together with supply chain traceability data company Frequentz, which he hopes will inform the industry enough to spur greater involvement in the fight against IUU crab fishing.

“I would love to see the private sector really take this on,” Gleason told SeafoodSource.

Gleason pointed to recent data from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service which put king crab on its “at risk” list for IUU fishing species. The data included estimates that 40 percent of king crab sold on the international markets is the product of IUU fishing, and it is costing the United States, between lost tax revenue and commercial fishing profits, USD 600 million (EUR 537.8 million).

Those figures, he said, match numbers his organization came up with through independent studies it commissioned through the McDowell Group.

The problem is not a new one. A report, released last fall by the World Wildlife Fund, described the problem in detail, noting that IUU volumes peaked in 2007 and have been dropping ever since. Gleason acknowledged that the Russian government in particular “has stepped up” to control the problem, but IUU crab fishing is still having an impact.

“It’s definitely getting better, but it’s still not solved,” he said.

Crab prices have been on a steady decline of late, down 25 percent in the past 3 years. While that’s not all related to Russian IUU fishing, Gleason said he has no doubt it’s a factor, and it hurts legitimate crabbers everywhere.

“I don’t think there’s any business that can take a 25 percent decline in three years and not suffer in some way,” he said.

The biggest problem, he said, is there are no mandatory country of origin labeling requirements for Russian crab, like there are for other species, which opens the door to the market for IUU crab.

“There’s no way the consumer can make an informed decision,” he said.

But the industry can take steps to inform itself. Gleason cited as an example the guitar manufacturer Gibson, which after being accused in 2012 of indirectly harming the environment by importing exotic wood, investigated its supply chain to learn more about the origins of its raw materials, and changed its sourcing practices as a result.

“I’d love to see U.S. importers take a similar position,” Gleason said.

There’s a more direct solution in the works, too. The United States signed the Port Safe Measures Agreement in 2009, which among other things, requires all seafood to land at ports before entering commerce. This, Gleason said, would force more scrutiny, making it harder for IUU fishermen to unload their product.

Right now, the U.S. government is in the process of drafting new law to implement the agreement, which Gleason said would be a huge step in the right direction.

“That’s probably the biggest thing that Congress can do,” he said.

He urged any seafood company in the United States that works with king crab to press Congress to act. In a perfect world, Gleason said, “I’d like to see a bill on the president’s desk by year’s end.”

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