A report released by Oceana on Tuesday, 1 February, calls on the U.S. to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), saying that the federal legislation designed to prevent fraudulently labeled products and specimens harvested from illegal fishing practices from entering the country includes too many loopholes.
The 36-page report notes a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission found that of the seafood imported into the U.S. in 2019, USD 2.4 billion (EUR 2.13 billion) worth was fished illegally. Examples of illegal fishing include crews harvesting fish in unpermitted areas, exceeding catch limits, mislabeling products, and using forced labor.
It also calls for more stringent traceability requirements so consumers are more informed about the products they’re buying. Oceana also wants to see the federal government expand SIMP to include all species.
“When SIMP was established in 2016, the intent was always to expand the program to all seafood,” the report states. “Now that five years have passed since NOAA issued the final regulations, it is time for the U.S. government to finish the job.”
SIMP currently covers 13 species, which represent roughly two-fifths of the country’s imports. In a 2019 study, Oceana researchers found that 21 percent of sampled seafood not covered by SIMP were still mislabeled. One issue, according to the report, is that traceability stops at the U.S. border.
“Seafood substitution within the U.S. supply chain can continue undetected,” it states.
The report focuses on four species that are currently not included in SIMP – the spiny lobster, the Maya octopus, the blue swimming crab, and squid. It notes that the crab is often mislabeled for the more expensive blue crabs found in Chesapeake Bay.
“Without adequate safeguards in place, U.S. consumers are unknowingly contributing to IUU fishing,” the report states. “The United States must ensure that only seafood that is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled makes it onto Americans’ dinner plates.”
Oceana’s report comes as a bipartisan group of lawmakers have filed a bill in Congress that would expand SIMP and strengthen federal laws against illegal fishing.
H.R. 3075, the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-California) and Garret Graves (R-Louisiana). Besides requiring SIMP to cover all species, it would also increase traceability requirements for fish and other species harvested.
Huffman has compared fishing on the high seas to the “wild west,” due to its lawless nature.
Photo courtesy of kajornyot wildlife photography/Shutterstock