US congressman wants imported seafood tracked like domestic products

Published on
July 25, 2017

For the second straight congressional session, a representative from Texas has introduced a bill he claims would level the playing field between American fishermen and their foreign counterparts.

Late last month, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold filed the “Protecting Honest Fishermen Act of 2017.” The legislation calls for all seafood sold in America to be traceable from the time it was caught to the time it was served. Under current regulations, importers do not need to provide the same level of information as domestic fishermen.

“American fishermen shouldn’t be at a disadvantage to foreign fishermen especially here in the United States,” the Republican said in a statement.

It’s not just fishermen who stand to benefit from the legislation. Consumers would benefit from reduced seafood fraud, said Beth Lowell, a campaign director at Oceana. Studies by the environmental group have indicated that up to a third of all seafood purchased in restaurants or markets has been incorrectly labeled. In most cases, customers end up unwittingly buying cheaper, lower quality fish, shrimp, or crab products than they expected.

Farenthold’s bill would complement regulations established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program requires importers, beginning next year, to maintain records to prove the authenticity of select species of fish and crab.

More than 90 percent of the seafood sold in the country is imported. However, federal officials inspect less than two percent of those products when they reach the country.

“Without full-chain traceability for all U.S. seafood, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking fishermen will continue to be undercut, and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy,” Lowell said in a statement.

However, Lori Steele, the executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, called the measure unnecessary. She said she fears non-government organizations could use the bill to impose further restrictions on the fishing industry, such as preventing the use of certain methods or equipment when catching fish. 

“Despite anyone’s good intentions with this bill, those types of interest groups I’m sure are really supporting this bill because they see the golden goose here,” she told SeafoodSource. “They see where they can really advance some of their agendas against certain sectors of the industry.”

Farenthold introduced a similar bill in 2015. However, that bill never received a committee hearing. No hearings have been scheduled for the current bill, either.

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