A new U.S. program to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by increasing reporting requirements for seafood importers is facing opposition from some foreign fishermen who believe the regulations are heavy-handed.
In particular, some Canadian fishermen, who already face stringent fishing regulations, say the new reporting requirements place an unnecessary burden on them.
“Canada does not need to improve its already recognized work in this sector to satisfy this new American effort,” Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), told SeafoodSource. “Some Canadians are understandably upset. As the stated goal of the new rule is to stop illegal, unregulated and unreported catches, the U.S. government’s initiative is actually suggesting, without evidence, that Canadian catch must be a source of such unlawful fish.”
NFI has sued to stop the new rule, which is scheduled to take effect 1 January, 2018.
Canada is a leader in fighting IUU fishing and has some of the world’s best expertise in digital forensics used to investigate IUU fishing.
Gibbons said that an effective and sufficient American effort should focus on enforcing existing regulations, and should target countries, companies and vessels with demonstrable IUU problems. Otherwise, the program devolves into a data-mining operation.
“Canada, a world leader in anti-IUU efforts, does not meet the criteria,” Gibbons said.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the final rule in December 2016, billing it as an effort to prevent IUU fish from entering the country. As a major consumer of seafood, the U.S. has a responsibility to combat IUU fishing, John Henderschedt, the director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection, said during a December press call.
So far, just the first phase of the Seafood Monitoring Import Program has been rolled out, covering 13 species that are especially vulnerable to IUU fishing, such as Pacific cod and tuna. The program is intended to eventually expand to cover all seafood imports into the U.S., but NOAA doesn’t have a timeline for that yet.
The program will trace seafood imports from the border back to where they were harvested or produced, and will follow them through shipping, storage, processing and other steps until they enter the commercial market.
U.S. importers are responsible for providing harvest and landing information about “what vessel harvested the fish, gear, the date and area of the harvest, the time of landing, the place of landing,” Henderschedt said during the press call. “That first stage in the supply chain, that information will have to be entered at the time of import.”
The U.S. government already collects comparable information from domestically harvested seafood. NOAA will conduct audits, and will have the ability to ask Customs and Border Patrol to stop shipments at the border if needed. But most enforcement will be done through post-entry audit.
The data collected will be funneled into the International Trade Data System, the same U.S. government portal that tracks all imports and exports. The program is not a labeling program and has no consumer-facing component, and the information collected will be confidential.
To reduce burdens on small vessels and artisanal fishermen, the rule allows those fishermen to aggregate harvest data with a single mother-ship at sea that they deliver their catch to, Henderschedt said.
Implementation for two of the species, shrimp and abalone, has been delayed to address gaps in data between farmed and wild-caught products. Regulations for those species were “stayed” because international trade agreements forbid the U.S. from treating similar products differently.
While the Canadian government supports combating IUU fishing and has worked closely with U.S. officials on the rule, it is also seeking changes to the rule, said Carole Saindon, a spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“We have expressed concerns related to the list of ‘priority’ species, and the level of detail required for reporting on harvest and aquaculture production, and that existing traceability schemes be recognized by the U.S. program,” Saindon told SeafoodSource.
Canada wants the U.S. to implement a “trusted trader” program that would ease reporting requirements for responsible importers.
“Trusted Traders should be exempt from providing the data requirements of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program,” Saindon said. “At a minimum, there should be reduced reporting and record keeping requirements for Trusted Traders.”
NOAA Fisheries is working on such a Commerce Trusted Trader program that would reduce compliance requirements and streamline the process for certified importers. A comment period for that program closed last June, and an initial rule making process is expected to start later in 2017.