Shrimp importers may get more time to comply with Seafood Import Monitoring Program
U.S. shrimp producers got a major victory from the omnibus spending bill that passed the Senate early Friday morning, 23 March.
The bill, which passed the House Thursday, 22 March, includes a long-sought after provision to lift the stay on when imported shrimp will be included in the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.
However, President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill for reasons unrelated to the new shrimp rules.
If and when Trump signs the bill, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will have 30 days to set the date of compliance for shrimp inspections, and the bill stipulates compliance must start by the end of the calendar year. SIMP requires seafood importers to maintain records of certain products from the time they’re caught or harvested to the time they reach the U.S. in an attempt to keep illegally caught and counterfeit products from reaching American consumers.
A spokesman with the National Fisheries Institute, which initially opposed SIMP when it was unveiled in late 2016, told SeafoodSource that it was important to note that while the stay must be lifted within a month, it won’t mean that shrimp importers must become compliant by that time.
“The SIMP program, with or without shrimp, has been a misguided effort that will not successfully meet the [illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing] challenges it was supposedly created to address,” said Gavin Gibbons, NFI’s vice president of communications. “Allowing for a longer implementation period, for shrimp, will at least allow that part of the seafood community to get up to speed before it takes effect.”
John Ewald, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, told SeafoodSource before the Senate vote that the agency is monitoring the situation. However, he added it would be premature to discuss its outcomes prior to the passage of the bill.
SIMP took effect on 1 January on such species as Atlantic cod, red snapper, swordfish, tuna, and king and blue crabs. Shrimp was initially listed, but the National Marine Fisheries Services held off on shrimp inspections, as similar requirements were not in place for domestic producers. The spending bill also requires a traceability program for domestic shrimp.
Even before SIMP began, lawmakers in Southern states were angling to end the delay on shrimp. One of the more prominent supporters of that movement was U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), who along with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) included language in a Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to include shrimp in the monitoring program.
Chris Gallegos, communications director for Cochran, told SeafoodSource that the senator, set to retire on 1 April, is happy to see the language included in the bill.
“Senator Cochran’s focus over the years has been to ensure a level playing field for the domestic shrimp industry,” Gallegos said. “As a Mississippian, he’s seen the hardship caused when the competition has an unfair advantage.”
The shrimp provision wasn’t the only seafood-related item in the omnibus bill. It also includes language allowing seafood employers that petition for H-2B visas to bring in nonimmigrants during a 120-day period without filing an additional petition.