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This week, the Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State, issued an action plan at the Seafood Expo North America, in Boston, outlining the decisive steps that federal agencies will take both domestically and globally to implement recommendations the task force made last December.
The plan spotlights actions to bolster enforcement, develop partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations, and devise a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce. Also in the plan are ways the U.S. can work with foreign partners to strengthen international governance, improve cooperation, and build the capacity to fight IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
"The steps the United States has taken to be a leader in environmental stewardship are paying off," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews. "However, our nation’s fisheries remain threatened by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, which negatively affects our markets. The task force's new strategic plan will aggressively implement recommendations to guarantee that U.S. fishing fleets remain competitive in the global economy."
The plan demonstrates the Obama administration's commitment to supporting sustainable fisheries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional agreement including four of the top 15 global producers of marine fisheries products by volume. TPP is expected to include historic stand-alone commitments to combat IUU fishing, and encourage sustainable fisheries management and conservation of marine resources. The U.S. is seeking similar commitments in negotiations with the European Union.
Stakeholder response to the plan was generally positive but measured. "Oceana applauds these efforts to break the unintended link between U.S. dollars and pirate fishing," said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director of the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based international advocacy group, which conducts tests for seafood fraud. "Traceability will forever change the way we think about our seafood. Responsible seafood purveyors will no longer have to worry about the products they sell, and consumers can finally trust that they’re getting what they pay for."
Lowell noted, however, that "President Obama must now ensure that these final recommendations are fully implemented. Additionally, while these initial efforts only start with risk-based species to the first U.S. sale, they create a pathway to full chain traceability for all seafood. The transition from risk-based to comprehensive full chain traceability will increase the safety net for all consumers, fishermen and seafood businesses." She added that "Oceana will continue to push for mandatory and comprehensive full-chain traceability – from boat to plate – to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled."
John Connelly, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Fisheries Institute, said that his organization "supports many of the [task force's] recommendations," but cautioned that "questions remain about execution, duplication of existing government efforts, and funding." He then made an "appeal to the agencies now tasked with carrying out these recommendations to do so with a cost-effective, targeted approach."
Connelly also warned that "consideration of changing regulations, like using the common name of fish, rather than the market name, should be avoided in order not to confuse shoppers while costing producers, processors, restaurants, retailers and ultimately consumers."
Traceability has proved to be a hot topic at this year’s Seafood Expo, as illustrated by the launch of Trace Register’s TR-Common standards enabling interoperability across multiple data systems worldwide, and a report released at the show by the Institute of Food Technologists’ Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC), which confirmed that the more companies embrace traceability practices and systems, the more benefits and real business value they accrue.
Based on interviews with more than 80 people at 48 companies across nine international seafood supply chains, GFTC's research also found that consumers value verification that a seafood product is produced or harvested sustainably even above confirmation that the fish is actually what’s advertised or labeled.
As well as its findings, the Chicago-based center unveiled a Seafood Financial Traceability Tool, developed with the assistance of business owners and managers, to help companies calculate the return on investment and create a business case for investment in traceability.