Legality of wild Mexican shrimp still in question


Steven Hedlund

Published on
February 28, 2011

Even though the U.S. government lifted an embargo on the product last October, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is urging its industry partners to ensure the legality of the wild Mexican shrimp they’re sourcing.

Last April, a number of Gulf of Mexico and Sea of Cortez fishermen were cited for improper use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs), as they were inadvertently catching sea turtles. As a result, the U.S. Department of State enacted an embargo on wild Mexican shrimp. Six months later, the agency rescinded the ban after Mexico’s government implemented a plan to strengthen sea turtle conservation in the country’s shrimp trawl fishery, including “significant” improvements in the use of TEDs.

But in a guidance the non-governmental organization is circulating to its industry partners, SFP says Mexico’s shrimp trawl fishery still isn’t in complete compliance with TED requirements. Additionally, problems exist with respect to lack of bycatch-reduction devices on all vessels (not currently required by the government), fishing in marine protected areas and inadequate use of vessel monitoring systems, according to SFP.

“This situation puts importers and buyers at risk of violating federal law, most specifically the Lacey Act, which prohibits the possession and trade in seafood caught illegally,” says the guidance. “The current situation, including lack of bycatch-reduction devices, also does not satisfy the requirements most major retailers currently have with respect to their sustainability commitments.”

SFP is recommending that importers and buyers request proof that the shrimp they’re buying was caught legally in full compliance with U.S. law and the Mexican Shrimp Standard, which has been in effect since 1933.

The warning is not a boycott but rather a “buy legal” initiative, emphasized Howard Johnson, the organization’s director of global programs, adding that SFP staff in Mexico is working with the country’s government and fishing interests to encourage full compliance.

Johnson added that SFP is thinking about issuing a similar guidance for Russian king crab, a fishery that is prone to poaching. The legality of some of the Russian king crab entering the U.S. market is in question, said Johnson, pointing to last week’s seizure of USD 2.75 million worth of Russian king crab by federal agents in Seattle.

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