New rules issued to curb illegal fishing, fraud
PORTLAND, Maine — The Obama administration is issuing new rules it says will crack down on illegal fishing and seafood fraud by preventing unverifiable fish products from entering the U.S. market.
The new protections are called the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, and they are designed to stop illegally fished and intentionally misidentified seafood from getting into stores and restaurants by way.
The rules will require seafood importers to report information and maintain records about the harvest and chain of custody of fish, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The program will start by focusing on “priority species” that are especially vulnerable to illegal fishing, such as popular food fish like tuna, swordfish, Atlantic cod and grouper. The government hopes eventually to broaden the program to include all fish species, NOAA officials said.
“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,” said Catherine Novelli, a State Department undersecretary.
Estimates of the economic damage of illegal fishing vary, but conservation group Oceana reported in 2013 that illegal fishing causes more than $10 billion in global losses every year. Other estimates are higher.
The rules will help make sure that importers are able to supply “the who, what, why, when, how of fishing,” said Beth Lowell, a senior campaign director with Oceana.
The new rules are an outgrowth of a presidential task force established in 2014 to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. NOAA officials said the new requirements will allow regulators to trace seafood from its point of entry into the U.S. to the point when it was harvested from the sea.
The rules go on the books Jan. 9 and compliance from importers is expected by Jan. 1, 2018.