U.S. raises bar on seafood imports

U.S. raises bar on seafood imports

Program will trace specific fish and fish products from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce in an effort to curb illegal fishing and fraud.

The U.S. established additional protections for the national economy, global food security and the sustainability of shared ocean resources on Dec. 8. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries will administer the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to further curb illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices and to identify misrepresented seafood imports before they enter the U.S. market.

Photo: National Oceanic

The program requires that importers report information and maintain records about the harvest, landing and chain of custody of imported fish and fish products for certain priority species identified as especially vulnerable to IUU fishing and seafood fraud, NOAA said. The program will eventually expand to include 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,” NOAA administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan said. “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. 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,” added Catherine Novelli, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment at the U.S. Department of State. “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.”

NOAA said the U.S. will use the existing International Trade Data System to collect seafood catch and landing documentation for the priority seafood species. This data system is the U.S. government’s data portal for all imports and exports. Information collected through this program is confidential and will not be available to consumers. Similar information for domestically harvested seafood is already reported under numerous existing state and federal regulatory requirements.

For most priority species listed in the rule, NOAA said the mandatory compliance date is Jan. 1, 2018, but due to gaps in the availability of information regarding U.S. farmed shrimp and abalone, implementation for these species will be effective at a later date. NOAA and the Food & Drug Administration have committed to working together to identify potential pathways to close these data gaps through FDA's food safety authorities. This process will include data gathering and a stakeholder engagement process.

The Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing & Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the departments of Commerce and State, called for the formation of this program. NOAA sought public comment for the proposed design of this program, and the final rule reflects feedback from international partners, the fishing and seafood industries, trade and consumer sectors and the conservation community. For more information about this program, visit http://www.iuufishing.noaa.gov.

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