Editorial: Track Seafood Supply to Eliminate Fraud

Published June 27, 2014

This editorial, written by our Chief Conservation Officer Eric Schwaab and Chief Scientist at Oceana, Micheal Hirshfield, was published in the Baltimore Sun today: 

At the State Department's "Our Ocean" conference last week, President Barack Obama announced new plans to tackle seafood fraud and illegal fishing. Increased transparency and traceability of the seafood supply chain is a critical next step in sustaining fisheries management progress in the U.S. and abroad. Failure to fully address these problems will continue to undercut the progress that the U.S. and other nations have made to end overfishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks.

According to a new study of the top U.S. seafood imports, an estimated 20 to 32 percent of the wild-caught seafood crossing our borders was found to have originated from illegal sources. Other recent research has found that up to 33 percent of seafood samples tested in the U.S. were mislabeled, substituting one species of fish for another. The inability to distinguish between legally and illegally caught fish undermines progress being made both in the U.S. and abroad, puts law-abiding fishermen and consumers at great disadvantage in the marketplace, is a key driver of global overfishing and jeopardizes the health of marine ecosystems.

Fortunately, there are solutions. Together, our government agencies can work to remedy this problem. Tracking where, when and how our seafood was caught and ensuring this basic information follows the fish through each step of the supply chain helps eliminate seafood fraud and the pirate fishing it can disguise. This "boat to plate" traceability will hold all members of the seafood industry to the same standard, and coupled with better enforcement and import controls, will help discourage illegal activity. With traceability, consumers have more information about where their fish came from, honest fishermen and businesses are not undercut by unfair competition, and we close our markets to seafood products from pirate fishing, which threatens the long-term stability of ocean ecosystems.

We applaud the president's announcement and look forward to working closely with the administration to help address this problem. It is now the official policy of the United States to combat illegal fishing and seafood fraud to ensure that all seafood is legally caught and accurately labeled. The President's efforts include establishing a task force that will engage stakeholders, federal agencies and other experts to develop recommendations.


Read the rest of the editorial on the Baltimore Sun's website.
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