We need Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection in the US

The stalled Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act got a mention in a nice article about seafood fraud and efforts to curb it in the EU and US. This quote says it all;

Although over 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported,” the group reports, “the FDA inspects only 2 percent of this imported seafood for health and safety risks, and a minuscule .001 percent for seafood fraud.

In 2009 the U.S. imported 5.2 billion tons and exported 2.5 billion tons of seafood; a huge trade deficit that has global ecological and socioeconomic impacts. Like our spending deficit, China meets nearly a quarter of our seafood deficit. The rest of Asia and South America make up the rest:

Read the excerpted article below from Miller-McCune:

High-seas fish poaching is more than just a matter of sneaking marine life out of a restricted corner of the ocean; it’s an organized industrial crime that can strip coastal fishing grounds bare and deny even subsistence livelihoods to local fishermen. Foreign ships poaching in African waters, for example, have been a problem for years in Africa, east and west, and the crime fuels piracy, as well as illegal immigration.

A European Union regulation against “fish laundering” could help, though. And, in 2011, the EU and the U.S. jointly agreed to battle the problem. Marine conservationists hope the U.S. will pass similar bills pending in Congress.

Americans might associate fish laundering with tricks on a menu — a plate of cheap rockfish palmed off as pricey red snapper. A recent Boston Globeinvestigation found “widespread” mislabeling in local restaurants; and Oceana, an international conservation group, reports that the rate of red snapper fraud on U.S. menus hovers between 77 and 90 percent.  

But fish can be laundered long before it reaches the kitchen. To dodge catch limits off Senegal, for example, a Spanish trawler on the high seas can “trans-ship” its harvest to a factory ship that mixes licit with illicit meat. Or, whole containers of fish can be mislabeled after a ship lands in a “port of convenience,” where corrupt dockworkers or inspection officials help disguise the cargo’s provenance. Preventing these practices, environmentalists say, is the only way to oversee the volume of seafood taken from troubled parts of the world.

It means keeping honest track of the fish. The EU’s new regulation imposes tight document checks for ships calling at European harbors, to give port inspectors an idea of where the ships have sailed. It also requires a European blacklist for vessels and nations that tolerate illegal fleets. Above all, it gives “port-state” powers to EU members: before 2010, a trawler owned by a Spanish firm could dodge Spanish law by flying a “flag of convenience” licensed from a far-off government — say, Belize — with looser fishing legislation. Now, that Spanish trawler also can be punished in Spain — that is, by the state where it comes to port.

“The regulation as a piece of law is potentially very good,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation. “It has most of the provisions that are needed to make a real difference in the real world.”

Trent argues that a few examples of solid enforcement would scare fishing firms into compliance. But after two years, he says, EU officials haven’t prosecuted a single high-profile case of fish laundering.

“We recently worked with the European Commission to facilitate seizure of around 4 million pounds of fish [in the Canary Islands] … but for a number of reasons, it didn’t then move towards prosecuting a case,” he said. “We’ve got to make the risks involved in illegal fishing, and then laundering that fish onto the European marketplace, outweigh the potential benefit.”

The U.S., meanwhile, has a “fragmented and feeble” structure to prevent fraud, according to Oceana. “Although over 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported,” the group reports, “the FDA inspects only 2 percent of this imported seafood for health and safety risks, and a minuscule .001 percent for seafood fraud.”

One bill before the Senate, the Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act, would bring U.S. law closer to Europe’s by boosting inspection at American ports. It would also let Washington pressure foreign countries known to tolerate illegal vessels. A second bill, the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act, would tighten U.S. port restrictions on known illegal vessels.

Read the full article here


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