A new study published in Marine Policy estimates that between 20 and 32% of wild-caught seafood imported into this country comes from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU), also called “pirate” fishing. These illegal imports are valued between $1.3 and $2.1 billion, in a $16 billion market. Pirate fishermen fish in closed areas, during prohibited fishing times, and use illegal gear to catch threatened species.
Since 85% of our commercial stocks are fished “up to their biological limits or beyond” according to the report, IUU threatens the sustainable use of our oceans. Fishing in the oceans needs to be regulated to maintain the sustainability of the waters. Illegal fish products are mixed into supply chains when they are processed, which further muddies the situation.
The top wild-caught illegally harvested seafood products include shrimp, tuna, crab, and pollack. One of the issues is that these fish are often processed in China and then shipped to the United States. The Russian seafood industry, which often processes its seafood in China, has low transparency because they don’t have many observers. In addition, restrictions are rarely complied with, and transshipments at sea are poorly monitored. Legal and illegally sourced fish are mixed at sea and during the processing stage to avoid inspectors.
Oceana ocean advocate Beckie Zisser said in a statement, “this study unfortunately confirms what we have long suspected – that seafood from pirate fishing is gutting into our markets, illegal fishing undercuts honest fisherman and seafood businesses that play by the rules, and the U.S. should not be incentivizing pirate fishers by creating a legal market for their products. The solution to this problem is requiring proof of legality an traceability as a condition to import into the U.S., ensuring that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled. In addition, Congress must pass the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act.”
The study suggests that the High Seas Driftnet Moratorium Protection Act and the Lacey Act need to be enforced worldwide. Unfortunately they aren’t well designed for today’s “massive global seafood trade.” More rigorous inspection and border controls are called for. Catch documentation, improved chain of custody procedures, and certified product sources are needed as well. And barcodes that are devised to document the supply chain and seafood origins would be a big help.