U.S. Establishes Seafood Import Monitoring Program

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries has released a final rule establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to address illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the United States. The program will aim to further curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices and identify misrepresented seafood imports before they enter the U.S. market.

Under the program, importers must report information and keep records on the harvest, landing and chain of custody of imported fish and fish products for certain priority species deemed particularly susceptible to IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The program will eventually encompass all species.

“As a global leader in sustainable fisheries management and seafood consumption, the U.S. has a responsibility to combat illegal practices that undermine the sustainability of our shared ocean resources,” noted NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan. “We designed this program to further ensure that imported seafood is legally harvested and truthfully represented, with minimal burden to our partners.”

“This rule is a critical step forward in combating IUU and seafood fraud,” added Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment at the U.S. Department of State. “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 U.S. markets are open for your business. The rule will build on similar global efforts and will provide confidence to our consumers in the seafood they eat while also leveling the playing field for honest fishers across the globe who play by the rules.”

Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Washington, D.C.-based Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation, hailed the news as “a groundbreaking step towards more transparency and traceability in the seafood supply chain. … For the first time ever, some imported seafood will now be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish.”

However, Lovell continued, “We must continue to build on this important work and expand seafood traceability to include all seafood sold in the U.S. and extend it throughout the entire supply chain,” adding,“Without full-chain traceability for all seafood, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking, honest fishermen will continue to be undercut, and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy.”

The United States will use the existing International Trade Data System to collect seafood catch and landing documentation for the priority seafood species listed in the rule. The mandatory compliance date for most of the listed priority species is Jan. 1, 2018.

The Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State, urged the formation of the program, which was designed by NOAA with input from international partners, the fishing and seafood industries, trade and consumer sectors, and the conservation community.

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