Feds fight fish fraud with new recordkeeping rules

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced last week that it is implementing a new tracking program for seafood imports to help combat illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

The seiner Jaime Marie sails past other fishing vessels at City Pier 2 in Kodiak on June 6, 2013. (Creative Commons photo courtesy of James Brooks)
The seiner Jaime Marie sails past other fishing vessels at City Pier 2 in Kodiak on June 6, 2013. (Creative Commons photo courtesy of James Brooks)

Importers will have to track where fish were caught, the type of gear used and where it was landed.

Director of the Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspections John Henderschedt said the federal government wants a better record of who is catching seafood and where it’s landed before it shows up in U.S. stores.

“We do not have laws that allow us to gather the data to ensure that we can carefully examine the legality of catch and the chain of custody of that product as it makes its way to the U.S.,” Henderschedt said.

The proposed program applies to about 13 different types of fish, including Pacific cod, red king crab, shrimp, sea cucumber and others. Eventually, Henderschedt said it could be expanded to more species.

Henderschedt said NMFS already has that information for domestic seafood, so fishermen and processors here won’t be asked to do anything differently. For now, consumers won’t have the new information about imported seafood.

“In instances where the data is absent, or instances where there are other issues with the quality or the completeness of the data, we would then move to an investigation stage,” Henderschedt said. “As this international trade data system develops and once we’ve been able to identify what the key chain of custody data elements are, we anticipate establishing additional reporting elements associated with the chain of custody, but I’ll reiterate that for now, those are a record keeping requirement.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young said he hadn’t seen NOAA’s proposal, but thought it was a good idea to trace fish imports, to find out where and how the fish was harvested, by whom and whether the species is endangered.

“Because most of these species are interchangeable internationally, and if we have conservation going on in Alaska, and nothing going on Russia — who’s the big villain right now — we got some problems,” Young said.

The new rule won’t go into effect until late 2016 at the earliest. The proposed rule will be published with a 60-day comment period this spring, and the agency plans to publish the final rule in the fall.