Slow US Customs and Border Protection system blamed for missed IUU investigations

NOAA Officials blame slow Customs and Border Protection system for missed IUU investigations

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is too slow in passing on information about potential illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing imports, making it difficult for NOAA Fisheries to conduct inspections, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

NOAA Fisheries manages four separate programs designed to stop the import of IUU products, but it cooperates regularly with CBP and other agencies to target potential IUU products being shipped into the United States. In 2019, for example, CBP, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and NOAA Fisheries worked together to discover that 32 Spanish companies were mislabeling albacore tuna as bonito to avoid higher tariffs. Through that investigation, CBP was able to recover USD 600,000 (EUR 550,110) in lost tariff revenue.

According to estimates from the International Trade Commission, about 11 percent of the USD 22 billion (EUR 20 billion) worth of seafood the U.S. imported in 2019 was a product of IUU fishing. Limited resources means that the number of inspections is low compared to the volume of imports, according to NOAA Fisheries. The agency doesn’t track the number of inspections it conducts, but told GAO that 14 inspections in a month is typical.

Despite some successful investigations, NOAA Fisheries officials claim CBP is not fast enough in passing on important IUU information, preventing the agency from investigating suspicious shipments. The main issue is CPB’s primary interagency coordination mechanism – the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center (CTAC) – which officials reported does not deliver necessary information in a timely manner.

Partner agencies share intelligence and discuss ongoing operations during weekly CTAC meetings in an effort to foster cooperation. CBP officials told GAO it is important to coordinate information requests through CTAC “to ensure that such requests do not jeopardize or duplicate ongoing CBP operations.” CBP has directed port-level NOAA Fisheries officials to submit requests for information, intelligence, or a hold on any specific shipment through CTAC via NOAA Fisheries headquarters.

NOAA Fisheries officials said this process “limits their ability to get the timely information they need,” telling the GAO that it’s often easier and faster to contact CPB officials directly, despite CPB’s directions. Officials say the system can take up to a week to respond to time-sensitive requests about potential IUU shipments. Direct interactions between officials allows them to share expertise on complex import regulations, they said.

“Unless CTAC officials work with NMFS to ensure that it has timely access to information through CTAC on seafood imports that may have been caught with IUU fishing, both NMFS and CBP may be missing opportunities to combat such fishing and associated import violations,” GAO stated in its report, adding that CBP needs to balance its needs with those of its partner agencies.

GAO’s official recommendation is that CBP work with NOAA Fisheries to ensure it has the information it needs in a timely manner, a conclusion the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – which oversees CBP – agreed with. In response to the report, CTAC will create a schedule of data that can be shared with NOAA Fisheries, develop a timeline for how frequently data should be shared, and gather feedback from NOAA Fisheries on the CTAC process.

Photo courtesy of JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock


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