October 16, 2017

Seafood Traceability Program Upheld by Court

A federal court ruled this week that the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program is upheld. This program requires that some imported seafood that is at risk of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud is completely documented and traced from the fishing vessel or farm to the U.S. border.

Seafood Assortment

This program, also known as the Seafood Traceability Rule, takes effect January 2018. It will require importers of seafood such as tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper, and blue crab to provide specific information to border inspectors before their products can enter the country.

Beth Lowell, senior director for illegal fish and seafood fraud at Oceana said in a statement, “This ruling is a huge win for U.S. fishermen and consumers who are cheated when illegally caught or mislabeled seafood products make their way into our markets. It’s time for imported seafood to be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish. It’s time to level the playing field for U.S. fishers and reduce the risks facing U.S. consumers. All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.”

A lawsuit against the program was filed by the National Fisheries Institute and eight individual seafood companies claiming that the final rule was “signed by a low-level bureaucrat” without authority. In June, the Secretary of Commerce ratified the rule at the judge’s request, resolving that claim.

In May, Oceana, represented by Earthjustice, and the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a joint amicus brief in support of the Seafood Traceability Rule. Yesterday’s decision is in response to the remaining claims of the lawsuit.

Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity said about the ruling, “This is a major victory against the illegal fishing that’s devastating many fish populations and killing imperiled wildlife like turtles and porpoises around the world. Massive fishing operations working totally outside the law are rampant on the high seas and in foreign waters. This rule helps ensure that American consumers aren’t supporting such deplorable fishing practices.”

The United States imports more than 90% of the seafood consumed here, but a recent study found that 20 to 32% of wild-caught seafood comes from IUU fishing. Molly Masterson, an attorney with the Oceans Program at NRDC said, “illegal fishing and seafood fraud are putting ocean health at risk, and stamping them out is a goal we can all agree on.”

An Oceana poll from September 2016 found that 83% of Americans support new requirements focused on eliminating seafood fraud in this country. In the EU, the implementation of similar measures found that mislabeling rates of seafood dropped from 23% before 2012 to 8% in 2015.

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