Oceana: Expanded traceability needed on imported seafoods

An environmental watchdog for oceans is again urging the U.S. government to expand its work on seafood catch documentation and traceability, citing billions of dollars in seafood imported from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.

The analysis released by Oceana on Tuesday cites federal government trade data for seafood imports from 10 countries recognized internationally for IUU fisheries or human rights abuses, including China, Russia, Taiwan, Cameroon, Mexico, Costa Riva, Senegal, Panama, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

According to the Oceana analysis only about 30% of the total volume of seafood imports from these countries are subject to traceability requirements from the U.S. government.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016, requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud. That program, however, only covers 13 species and species groups representing about 40% of U.S. imports, and the traceability requirements only apply from the fishing vessel or farm to the first point of entry into U.S. commerce – the U.S. border.

In 2022, the U.S. imported over $30 billion in seafood from 150 countries, the top contributor being China, which exported nearly $2 billion in seafood products to the U.S. Only about 13% of the total volume of U.S. Imports from China were covered by SIMP and subject to documentation and traceability requirements. Vessels flagged to China have consistently been cited by international authorities for IUU fishing and human rights offenses at sea, the Oceana report said. Between January and June 2022 (before the temporary ban on Russian imports) Russia exported nearly $1 billion of seafood products to the U.S., of which only 48% were covered under SIMP.

“While no one wants their seafood dinner coming from forced labor or illegal fishing, the bottom line is Americans are eating seafood from nations known for the most egregious behaviors at sea,” said Marla Valentine, Oceana campaign director.


SIMP can shed light on notoriously opaque seafood supply chains and give the government enough information to proactively prevent illegally sourced seafood from entering the country, but only if it is expanded to cover all seafood imports rather than just a handful, she said.