Illegal fishing, seafood fraud still widespread

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud continue to be a challenging issue in imports to the United States, which imports up to 90% of its seafood, according to a new report from the international ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana.

While the federal government has taken steps to combat these problems in the past, more must be done to ensure that U.S. dollars are not supporting these illicit activities, which can impact the economy, environment and human rights, the report said.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs the global seafood industry as much as $26 billion to $50 billion annually, and also gives illegal harvesters an unfair advantage over those playing by the rules, according to Oceana. In the U.S. alone, up to 90% of fish consumed is imported, with up to 32% of wild-caught seafood imports being the products of illegal or unreported fishing. These illegal harvests can destroy essential habitat, severely deplete fish populations and threaten global food security, the report said.

“Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns. “All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.”

In 2016, the federal government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which requires catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud, but the program currently applies only to 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. In 2019 Oceana released results of a seafood fraud investigation, testing popular seafood not covered by the program, and found that one of every five fish tested nationwide was mislabeled, demonstrating that seafood fraud is still a problem in the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering a proposed rule that would require traceability for some foods, including most seafood throughout the full supply chain.

Oceana supports the FDA requiring traceability for seafood and suggests that the rule be expanded to include all seafood, Lowell said.