The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American COMPETES Act on Friday, 4 February on a near party-line vote.
The USD 350 billion (EUR 305.6 billion) spending bill tackles supply chain and trade issues included several fishing provisions from other bills – including the expansion of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to cover all species that enter American ports.
H.R. 4521 passed by a 222-210 vote. One Republican member joined Democrats in support, and one Democratic member joined Republicans in opposition. Two GOP members did not vote, including U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana). Graves was a key supporter of SIMP expansion. That and other aspects of the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bipartisan bill he co-sponsored with U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California), were included in the bill that passed 4 February. A message left by SeafoodSource with his office was not immediately returned on Friday afternoon.
SIMP currently only pertains to 13 species. The bill coauthored by Huffman and Graves comes as part of a larger-scale effort to eliminate the importation of seafood caught or processed using illegal means, including the use of forced labor, as well as the deliberate mislabeling of products.
In a House floor speech, Huffman said a healthy ecosystem is a vital part of American competitiveness in the global economy.
“We know foreign fisheries do not have the same environmental and labor standards we have here in the U.S.,” Huffman said. “Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing … is a scourge, and in the United States, we intend to do something about it.”
While some domestic seafood trade groups have called for an expansion of SIMP to protect their members against cheaper foreign products, earlier this week, 55 industry representatives sent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) a letter asking that the SIMP expansion be removed from the bill.
The Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act “has not been considered by the numerous committees of jurisdiction in the House… and is not ready for inclusion in a legislative package being prepared for a vote on the House floor,” the letter stated.
Other fishing-related items included in the bill include a phase-out of large-scale driftnet fishing in American waters over the next five years, a ban on the sales of shark fins, and a requirement for federal agencies to make purchasing domestic seafood products a priority. The latter provision would be accomplished through grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
After its passage in the House, Oceana Acting Vice President for the United States Beth Lowell praised the bill.
“Ending our role in these destructive practices is a necessary step to show the world that we’re serious when it comes to protecting ocean wildlife, supporting responsibly managed fisheries, and leveling the playing field for U.S. fishers and seafood businesses,” Lowell said.
Whether or not the fishing provisions inserted by the House in the bill stay in the final legislation remains to be seen. In June 2021, the Senate approved a USD 250 billion (EUR 218.2 billion) spending package that must be reconciled with the newly passed bill in the House. It will be up to leaders in both chambers to determine what remains in the final draft of the text, which will then be sent to U.S. President Joe Biden for his approval or veto.
Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman