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New Rule Will Crack Down on Fraudulent Fish

The Seafood Import Monitoring Program will require fish to be traced from the ocean to the U.S. in an attempt to stop illegal seafood

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Next time you order fish, consider this: There's a one in five chance it isn't what the menu claims. But that uncertainty is about to change.

Last week, the Obama administration passed a final rule to combat fish fraud and illegal fishing, reports Ben Dipietro at The Wall Street Journal. The rule requires that fish species most often passed off fraudulently or at risk of illegal fishing to be tracked from their source of origin before they can be imported to the United States. The rule will take effect January 1, 2018.

A new body, the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, will oversee fish importation. The species currently on the watch list include Atlantic cod, mahi mahi, sea cucumber, swordfish, sharks, tuna and others, reports Bloomberg BNA’s Rossella Brevetti. Eventually, the rules may expand to include all species of imported fish.

“For the first time ever, some imported seafood will now be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish, helping to level the playing field for American fishermen and reducing the risk facing U.S. consumers,” Oceana’s senior campaign director Beth Lowell says in a statement.

The seafood industry, however, is not a fan. “It ignores nearly every single industry comment provided to the Task Force and will impose on NFI members reporting and compliance obligations ranging from costly to impossible,” Lynsee Fowler a National Fisheries Institute spokesperson tells Brevetti.

DiPietro explains that the rule isn’t just about conservation. The United States imports about 90 percent of its seafood, he reports, and the strict rules that domestic fisherman are required to follow make it harder to compete with the cheaper imports. The new rules are a step toward making the playing field a little more competitive.  

Some environmental groups think it doesn't go far enough. Carter Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund commends the ruling for stopping $2 billion in illegal fish per year. But in a statement he says it needs to be expanded. “This rule only accounts for a number of at-risk species, which make up about 25 percent of illegal imports. We hope the next administration will continue this work and fight to keep all illegal products out of U.S. markets.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will run the program, the origin and tracing information will not be available to the public. Instead, the importer will be required to keep formal documentation on the chain of custody for the seafood being brought into the country.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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