Traceability Rule for Imported Seafood Upheld in Court
A federal court has upheld the U.S. government’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which will require some imported seafood at risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud to be fully documented and traced from the fishing vessel or farm to the U.S. border.
Set to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, the Commerce Department program, also known as the Seafood Traceability Rule, will require seafood importers of such species as tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper and blue crab to provide specific information before their products can enter this country, including what kind of fish it is, in addition to how and where it was caught or farmed.
The National Fisheries Institute and eight seafood companies filed a lawsuit last January to invalidate the rule, on the grounds that “the Department violated federal law in promulgating the Rule and that businesses will be harmed as a result,” according to the ruling. One key claim of the plaintiffs, that “the Rule was not issued by someone with either the statutory or constitutional authority to do so,” was resolved in June, when Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross ratified the rule at the judge’s request. The latest decision came in response to the lawsuit’s remaining claims.
“In the end, the Rule weathers the storm of Plaintiffs’ various challenges,” wrote Judge Amit P. Mehta, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in his Aug. 28 ruling (see attached file below).
“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,” noted Beth Lowell, senior director for illegal fishing and seafood fraud at Washington, D.C.-based Oceana, which in May filed a joint amicus brief with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council in support of the rule. “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.”
The United States currently imports more than 90 percent of its seafood. Oceana cited a recent study estimating that 20 percent to 32 percent of wild-caught seafood crossing U.S. borders comes from IUU fishing. The ocean conservation organization’s 2016 global review of seafood fraud found that following the implementation of similar measures to the Seafood Traceability Rule, mislabeling rates in the European Union dropped from 23 percent in studies conducted before 2012 to 8 percent in 2015.
Further, an Oceana poll from last September discovered that 83 percent of Americans were in favor of new requirements intended to eliminate seafood fraud in the United States.