The Obama Administration has launched a new initiative, known as the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, designed to prevent the importation of illegally fished seafood and mislabeled fish. The new rules aim to stop food fraud in the fishing industry by preventing these products from entering the US market.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), importers of seafood will soon need to keep records on their harvest to ensure all seafood being imported into the US is traceable. While the program will initially focus on tracking those fish that are most likely to be illegally fished or intentionally misrepresented, such as tuna, Atlantic cod, swordfish and grouper, the new rules will eventually be applied to all fish species.
“It sends an important message to the international seafood community that if you are open and transparent about the seafood you catch and sell across the supply chain, then the US markets are open for your business,” said Catherine Novelli, a State Department undersecretary. A 2013 study found that illegal fishing is responsible for over $10 billion in worldwide losses each year, according to conservation group, Oceana.
To be compliant with the new rules, seafood importers will need to be able to report “the who, what, why, when, how of fishing,” said Beth Lowell, a senior campaign director with Oceana. “For the first time ever, some imported species will be held to the same standard that domestic wild caught species are.”
In June 2014, the Obama Administration established a task force focused on reducing illegal and unregulated fishing, along with seafood fraud. The Seafood Import Monitoring Program will allow regulators to trace the path taken by seafood starting from the time when it’s caught, all the way to its importation into the US.
The National Marine Fisheries Service – a branch of the NOAA – will be responsible for administering the program. The rules are set to take effect on January 9, and seafood importers will need to comply by the beginning of 2018.