Feds toughen seafood inspections

ELLSWORTH — The federal government has stepped up efforts to protect the environment and American consumers from the consequences of illegal fishing.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that NOAA Fisheries will administer the new Seafood Import Monitoring Program with the aim of further limiting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices and to identify misrepresented seafood imports before they enter the U.S. market.

The program requires importers to report information and maintain records about the harvest, landing and chain of custody of imported fish and fish products for certain species identified as especially vulnerable to IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The program eventually will expand to include all species.

“As a global leader in sustainable fisheries management and seafood consumption, the U.S. has a responsibility to combat illegal practices that undermine the sustainability of our shared ocean resources,” Kathryn Sullivan, the NOAA administrator, said in a written statement. “We designed this program to further ensure that imported seafood is legally harvested and truthfully represented, with minimal burden to our partners.”

According to a spokesman from the U.S. Department of State, the new rule “is a critical step forward in combating IUU and seafood fraud” that “sends an important message to the international seafood community that if you are open and transparent about the seafood you catch and sell across the supply chain, then the U.S. markets are open for your business.”

The United States will use the existing International Trade Data System to collect seafood catch and landing documentation for several “priority” seafood species.

Those species include abalone, Atlantic cod, Atlantic blue crab, dolphinfish (mahi-mahi), grouper, red king crab, Pacific cod, red snapper, sea cucumber, sharks, shrimp, swordfish and several species of tuna, including albacore, bigeye, bluefin, skipjack and yellowfin.

The data system is the U.S. government’s data portal for all imports and exports. Information collected through the program is confidential and not available to consumers. Similar information for domestically harvested seafood already is reported under numerous existing state and federal regulatory requirements.

Mandatory compliance with the new program begins Jan. 1, 2018, except for shrimp and abalone. Because of “gaps” in availability of information regarding U.S. farmed shrimp and abalone, NOAA said, implementation for those species will become effective sometime further in the future.

NOAA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are “committed to working together to identify potential pathways to close these data gaps through the FDA’s food safety authorities,” according to the statement announcing the new program. That process will include data-gathering and a stakeholder engagement process.

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