NOAA withdraws SIMP proposal; US Representative Jared Huffman calls move “disingenuous”

A set of crates filled with sardines.

NOAA Fisheries announced on 14 November it is withdrawing its proposal to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), drawing criticism from environmental groups and members of Congress.

NOAA first announced a major expansion proposal on 28 December 2022 that would have more than doubled the number of species that the program targets. The program, created six years ago to block the import of products that had been either mislabeled or harvested through illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing (IUU), currently covers 13 species groups and includes 1,100 individual species.

NOAA Fisheries’ proposal would have added new species to the program, in addition to more documentation for importation and clarifications on what importers are responsible for. However, the agency said extensive public feedback during the comment period led it to withdraw expansion and instead start a broad program review.

“NOAA Fisheries is committed to ensuring that the program is a robust tool to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and help maintain the integrity of U.S. seafood imports,” NOAA Director Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce Director Alexa Cole said in a release.

Sally Yozell, the director of the environmental security program at the Stimson Center, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank, said NOAA has a responsibility to create an effective program that keeps IUU seafood products out of the U.S. market and welcomed the move to review the program more thoroughly. 

“Moving forward, the Stimson Center applauds NOAA Fisheries’ inclusive, public-led approach to this program review,” Yozell said. “Our team looks forward to working closely with NOAA Fisheries to achieve a more holistic vision for SIMP that can prevent and deter illegally caught fish from entering U.S. markets.”

Some members of congress and environmental groups blasted the decision. Oceana Campaign Director Max Valentine, who has in the past called for the program’s expansion, called the withdrawal “disappointing” and pushed NOAA to commit to a specific timeline on its actions regarding SIMP. 

“We call on NOAA to use this review of the program to ensure that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled,” Valentine said.

U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California), who has been a staunch supporter of SIMP expansion, told SeafoodSource that NOAA walking back expansion is “beginning to feel like a pattern.”

“The institutional, cultural, bureaucratic resistance to seriously confronting the scourge of IUU fishing is shameful and inexcusable,” Huffman said.

Huffman said the U.S. Congress has tasked NOAA with ... 

Photo courtesy of AJP/Shutterstock

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