CEO Note: U.S. Demand for Seafood Continues to Drive Illegal Fishing Around the World - Oceana
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February 1, 2022

CEO Note: U.S. Demand for Seafood Continues to Drive Illegal Fishing Around the World

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When people eat seafood, they shouldn’t have to worry if it’s associated with crime, environmental destruction, or human rights abuses.

But in the United States, that’s the sad reality. In 2019 alone, the U.S. imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood sourced from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, representing over 13% of the wild-caught seafood imported into the United States.

Thankfully, with the help of supporters like you, Oceana’s campaigning led to the creation of the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016, which requires catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud. While SIMP was a great first step, the program currently only applies to 13 types of seafood (around 40% of U.S. imports) and only traces them from the boat (or farm) to the U.S. border.

This means that around 60% of the seafood imported into the United States has no reporting requirements, such as what fish it is; where, when, or how it was caught; or who caught it.

In a report released today, Oceana highlights four of the many seafood species that are currently being imported into the U.S. without having to answer basic questions about their origins.  

For example, the Caribbean spiny lobster fishery in Belize, the Maya octopus fishery in Mexico, the blue swimming crab fishery in the Philippines, and the squid fishery in Peru are all rife with illegal fishing, but the U.S. continues to import these products with no questions asked.

Whether it’s a lack of enforcement, ignoring catch limits, fishing without permits, or misrepresenting the seafood that is sold, U.S. demand for seafood is helping to fuel IUU fishing around the world.

Today, up to 85% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and honest U.S. fishers and seafood businesses are being undercut by illegally sourced imports. The government must do better to protect consumers, fishers, and businesses that play by the rules.

Oceana is calling on President Biden to close the U.S. market to illegally sourced seafood once and for all, stopping U.S. dollars from continuing to drive illegal fishing, forced labor, and threats to livelihoods around the world.

Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. In a poll Oceana released last year, 89% percent of U.S. voters agreed that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S.-caught seafood; 81% said they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor; and 83% said that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate.

As Oceana’s acting vice president for the United States Beth Lowell puts it, “President Biden can lead in the global fight against IUU fishing, while protecting our oceans and the communities that depend on them. Only then can U.S. consumers be confident that their seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”

April’s Our Ocean conference provides the perfect opportunity for President Biden to reinforce U.S. leadership in the fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

Please join me and Oceana today in calling on President Biden to expand SIMP to all imported seafood and to extend traceability requirements from the boat all the way to the consumer’s plate.

As the world’s largest seafood importing country, the United States has both the purchasing power and the responsibility to combat IUU fishing. And in doing so, can help restore abundant oceans and support the millions of people who depend on them around the world.