President Biden: Stop Illegal Fishing, Expand Transparency and Fight Seafood Fraud

The world’s oceans face a dire threat: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Across the globe, IUU fishing depletes fish populations, destroys essential habitats and can be a driver of forced labor and human rights abuses. IUU fishing is off the books and outside the rule of law, compromising responsible and effective fisheries management, and undermining U.S. fishermen that play by the rules.  

It is estimated that up to 85% of the fish consumed in the United States is imported, with up to 32% of wild-caught seafood imports being products of illegal or unreported fishing.

While the federal government has taken some steps to combat these problems in the past, more must be done to ensure that U.S. dollars are not supporting these illicit activities at sea, which can impact the economy, environment and human rights.

Americans overwhelmingly agree. In a recent poll commissioned by Oceana, 92% of American voters agree that consumers should be confident in the seafood they eat, including that it is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.

Tell President Biden: Increase transparency and traceability of seafood to protect American fishermen, businesses, consumers and the oceans.  

Dear President Biden:

I am writing to urge you to expand transparency and traceability throughout the seafood industry to help end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud.

Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea. All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled. Until then, honest fishermen, seafood businesses, consumers and the oceans will pay the price.

IUU fishing poses one of the greatest threats to our oceans, costing the global seafood industry as much as $26 billion to $50 billion annually. In the United States, up to 90% of the fish consumed is imported, with up to 32% of wild-caught seafood imports being products of illegal or unreported fishing. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy essential habitats, severely deplete fish populations and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing, but also give illegal fishermen an unfair advantage over those that play by the rules.

IUU fishing is a low-risk, high reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of enforcement allow it to thrive. In 2016, the U.S. government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Unfortunately, SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. A 2019 Oceana study tested popular seafood not covered by SIMP and found that 1 in every 5 fish tested nationwide was mislabeled, demonstrating that seafood fraud is still a problem in the United States. Seafood fraud ultimately hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules, masks conservation and health risks of certain species, and cheats consumers who fall victim to a bait-and-switch.

If the U.S were to expand SIMP to all seafood — requiring information about how, when and where seafood was caught or produced — and if that information followed the product from the fishing boat or farm to the dinner plate, consumers could be confident that their seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. To expand transparency of fishing, public vessel tracking systems like the automatic identification system (AIS) — which broadcasts a vessel’s location, direction and speed — should be required on more fishing boats to shine a light on what is happening beyond the horizon. Adopting stronger requirements for imported seafood would also ensure that it is held to the same standards as seafood caught in the United States.

Taking action to combat IUU fishing, stop seafood fraud and expand transparency has strong bipartisan support. A 2020 Ipsos poll, commissioned by Oceana, found that 89% of registered voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Nearly 90% of voters also agree that the government needs to do more to ensure consumers are purchasing properly labeled seafood. Seventy-seven percent of voters support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable.

Your administration has an opportunity to lead in the fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud, leveling the playing field for American fishermen and seafood businesses, while protecting U.S. consumers and the oceans. The United States must take decisive action to combat IUU fishing and close the U.S. market to all illegally sourced products, including seafood caught using forced labor or other human rights abuses. The United States should be a leader in traceability of seafood and transparency at sea.