SIMP gets real in April

US seafood importers have less than two months to get serious about SIMP.  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday it will end its so-called “informed compliance” approach to the Seafood Import Management Program (SIMP) on April 7. Starting on that date, filings for products covered by the new record-keeping rules that are submitted missing all or some of the data required by the agency will receive a “may not proceed” message.

It will be an uneventful day if what John Henderschedt, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection, believes is true. He told Undercurrent News in an interview Wednesday that 90% of the SIMP-covered seafood entering the US since Jan. 1 — when NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) began collecting the data — have come with the proper forms filled out.

“Based on the numbers we have now, the impact of this change on April 7 will be zero, because people are already doing what they need to be doing,” he told Undercurrent.

Henderschedt added a few caveats, however.

“There are likely to be some very small subset of entry filers who will not get the message until they have an entry that is refused,” he said. “And obviously we will stand ready to work with that entry filer to bring them into compliance as swiftly as possible.”

Also, he added that the agency has only begun to audit the earlier SIMP entries for inaccuracies.

The seafood industry has had more than a year to get ready for NMFS to start enforcing its SIMP rules, under which importers of record (IORs) are required to capture 17 new data elements on 15 species, including Atlantic and Pacific cod, mahi mahi, grouper, swordfish and five different kinds of tuna. That includes where and when fish were caught, the species, the quantity and weight of the harvest, the kind of gear used, the name and flag of the harvesting vessel and the first point of landing as well as other details.

The information must be entered into Customs and Border Protection’s one-year-old Automated Commercial Environment program and retained by the IORs for at least two years.

“Filers are also reminded that SIMP includes a records retention provision, meaning that all entries subject to SIMP may be audited and became subject to enforcement action” beginning Jan. 1, 2018, NFMS warns in its latest guidance.

The rules were created to better protect against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing as well as seafood fraud, though many in the seafood industry have complained that they are unnecessary and costly.  

In response to the seafood industry’s concerns about not being ready, NMFS announced in December, via Customs’ Cargo Systems Managing Service, that it would grant more time before requiring compliance. Bad data submissions that “cannot be resolved in a timely manner” may be “refiled under the same entry” without penalty, the industry was told. 

That softer approach is being brought to a close, however.

Henderschedt said NMFS continues to receive a “manageable flow of questions” about SIMP on its help line, but most are very specific and technical.

“I have not gotten a lot of feedback that I would characterize as general,” he said. “Some of them are folks who are just learning about the regulation.”

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