Story at a glance
- More than 100 concerned scientists on Monday called on Congress in a letter to take action against unsustainable and harmful fishing practices.
- Illegal fishing and human rights abuses like forced labor are inherently connected, scientists write, because unsustainable fishing practices, which push vessels further out to sea for longer periods of time, come at a high price.
- Americans, according to an Oceana poll, overwhelmingly support policies mitigating illegal fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood industry.
More than 100 scientists on Monday called for federal action on illegal fishing, fraud and human rights abuses in the seafood industry.
In a letter to Congress, scientists called on representatives to end harmful practices along the seafood supply chain, including illegal, unreported and unregulated — or IUU — fishing and abuses like forced labor and human trafficking.
Human rights abuses and IUU fishing typically go hand in hand, scientists write, because unsustainable fishing practices push vessels further out to sea for longer periods of time, meaning some fishing companies rely on forced or underpaid labor to turn a profit.
“The interconnected issues of IUU fishing and human rights violations demand the United States take action to ensure that only safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled seafood is imported into our domestic market. The human rights abuses prevalent in the seafood sector make it clear that the United States needs to build in labor protections for those working at every stage in the seafood supply chain,” the letter’s authors write.
A bill passed by the House in May aims to end IUU fishing, seafood fraud and human rights abuses in the seafood industry by providing more information to U.S. consumers about the seafood they’re eating. It would also increase the supply chain’s transparency from boat to plate and allow the U.S. to take greater action against countries which fail to address IUU fishing and human rights violations.
Up to 85 percent of the fish consumed in the U.S. are imported, according to Oceana, and up to 32 percent of wild-caught imports are products of illegal or unreported fishing. An International Trade Commission report published earlier this year found that, in 2019, the U.S. imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood from IUU fishing.
Scientists on Monday also called on Congress to end seafood fraud, which “weakens the integrity of the seafood supply chain,” they wrote.
A 2019 Oceana report found 1 in 5 seafood products tested at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants had been swapped for a different fish species. On a global scale, 1 in 5 seafood products were mislabeled in more than 200 fraud investigations.
The creation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, or SIMP, in 2016 made the traceability and documentation of 13 types of fish required by law. But SIMP still excludes species that account for roughly 60 percent of seafood imports, scientists wrote.
They called for greater action by the U.S. on monitoring and transparency efforts, including automatic identification systems (AIS) on fishing vessels to trace fishing excursions and deter illegal fishing activity.
“By expanding transparency of U.S. fishing vessels, the U.S. can demand transparency as a condition of import, allowing the government to identify the high-risk shipments for increased inspections, audits, and enforcement actions,” scientists wrote.
Americans overwhelmingly support action to end unsustainable and harmful fishing practices, according to a January Oceana poll, with more than 80 percent of voters backing policies to prevent seafood caught using human trafficking or slave labor from being sold in the U.S. About 83 percent said all seafood should be traceable from boat to plate, and 77 percent said they supported requirements to make fishing vessels publicly traceable.
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