The United States Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, following campaigning by Oceana, just released a proposed rule that requires traceability to the first point of entry into U.S. commerce for certain species considered “at risk” of IUU or seafood fraud. It is encouraging that President Obama and the U.S. federal agencies are beginning to take action to address IUU fishing and seafood fraud, but there is still work to be done.
Seafood is an essential source of animal protein for hundreds of millions of people, and with responsible, science-based management practices, our oceans can help feed hundreds of millions more as well. As we look to save the oceans and feed the world, it will be crucial to be able to scientifically manage and keep track of how much fish we are – in reality – taking from the seas. IUU fishing and seafood fraud impede true science-based fisheries management. Although we believe that more comprehensive solution is necessary to truly address these problems, the Obama administration’s recent actions are a promising first step in combatting illegal fishing and seafood fraud.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing poses a significant threat to fisheries. This is because we need to create and enforce science-based catch limits, bycatch caps and habitat protection measures to rebuild abundance and biodiversity in the oceans. Those engaged in IUU are bypassing these important safeguards. Vessels operating outside the law may overfish at-risk species, have high rates of bycatch or use damaging equipment in protected areas. Furthermore, Illegally-caught fish are not recorded in official data, making it harder for scientists to monitor the health of affected fisheries. The more we can do to bring true nature of what is being caught and where – through more control of IUU fishing and through projects like Global Fishing Watch – the better.
In addition to IUU fishing, seafood fraud – the mislabeling of seafood products – is a widespread problem in both U.S. and international markets. In 2014, Oceana conducted the most comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date, compiling 103 studies from 29 countries and on all continents except Antarctica, and found some level of seafood fraud in every case. In Oceana’s most recent investigations of fish, shrimp, crab cakes and salmon, we found that, on average, one-third of the seafood tested was mislabeled or misrepresented in some way. This deception means consumers might not be getting what they paid for. Fraud can also lead to threatened species being labeled and sold as more sustainable options. If consumers are going to make responsible choices in their seafood diets, they must have accurate information.
We need to ensure that Presidential Task Force’s proposed rule goes further so it can truly address the challenges presented by IUU fishing and seafood fraud. First, the rule should expand the documentation requirements to all seafood and extend the traceability requirements through the entire seafood supply chain. Additionally, the rule needs to ensure that consumers are provided with the information they need to make good buying decisions such as: what species of fish they are actually buying, where it was caught and how it was caught. Right now, the long path a fish travels between the fishing boat and the plate is too often hidden from view. Only full-chain traceability for all seafood can ensure that our seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.
When President Obama created the Task Force in June 2014, he announced that he was looking to “combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud, and ensure accurate labeling for consumers.” We commend the President and the Task Force for a good start – and ask them to finish the job by issuing a strong, comprehensive rule that will protect consumers, fishermen, seafood businesses and the oceans.
For the oceans,
Chief Executive Officer