The Seafood Expo North America & Seafood Processing North America trade event opening Sunday in Boston is a premier venue for seafood suppliers and buyers from more than 100 countries to promote a form of commerce that has been inextricably tied to the history of New England.
The gathering at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center also provides a platform for President Obama's Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud — led by the departments of state and commerce — to unveil a new action plan to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. This plan is the result of extensive consultations with fishing industry representatives and environmental leaders, as well as comments from the public. It will promote the vitality of sustainably harvested and economically important marine fish stocks, while also protecting the health of those who eat seafood — a win for fishers, fisheries, and consumers.
The United States is a world leader in fisheries management, with a demonstrated commitment to robust and transparent marine stewardship based on science. We are also one of the largest seafood-consuming countries — and, with a significant majority of that seafood imported, we have a strong interest in ensuring that our successes at home are mirrored around the globe.
IUU fishing is a worldwide problem. It occurs when fishers break the rules, when they do not report their catches accurately, or when they undermine international measures that are in place to conserve our shared fisheries resources. Law-abiding fishers lose billions of dollars each year due to these activities. IUU fishing vessels also serve as vectors fueling other dangerous criminal activities, including human trafficking. The United States has long used effective tools to manage its domestic fleet and control illegal fishing, and has championed the use of those same methods internationally.
The action plan highlights the critical role of key international agreements, including the historic and enforceable environmental provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as the Agreement on Port State Measures to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing. The TPP would prohibit some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies, such as those that contribute to overfishing — a first in any trade agreement. Our commitment is to support sustainable fisheries through the TPP's environmental provisions, a regional agreement which includes four of the top 15 global producers of marine fisheries products by volume. And our efforts do not stop there — the United States is pursuing similar commitments in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the European Union.
The Port State Measures Agreement sets the first-ever minimum standards for countries to prevent IUU sea food products from entering their ports, which will, in turn, keep them from reaching the marketplace. In 2014, the US Senate — with bipartisan support — gave its advice and consent to ratification of this, and we are working with Congress to pass the implementing legislation necessary for the United State to finalize its ratification. For the agreement to go into effect, 14 more ratifications are needed, and then it must be implemented. The United States is reaching out to governments around the world to urge their rapid ratification of the agreement.
Seafood products are among the most widely traded food commodities, through a highly complex system. Seafood fraud can occur at any point along the supply chain, and can take many forms — a product might be purposely mislabeled with the wrong species name, or its origins misidentified, or a lesser value fish may be substituted for a more valuable species. The action plan sets out how the United States will improve the flow of information along the supply chain to combat all types of fraud. At its heart is a new traceability program to track seafood from where it was harvested or farmed to its entry into US markets. This risk-based program will improve our ability to minimize fraud and protect vulnerable fish stocks, while also enhancing food safety and building consumer confidence.
Many countries rely on fisheries as a main source of nutritious food, jobs, and income — and these countries are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of IUU fishing and fraud. Many will need help to build the necessary capacity to confront these challenges. The plan directs the US government to work with our development and international partners to do just that.
We recognize that this work can only succeed through partnerships — with our US stakeholders, with other countries, and with seafood producers everywhere. Those who engage in IUU fishing and seafood fraud gain an unfair advantage by avoiding the costs associated with sustainable fishing practices. We must level the playing field for people and businesses that play by the rules.
President Obama and the administration have made our ocean and sustainable fisheries a priority. Secretary of State John Kerry — who worked on fishing issues throughout his nearly three decades representing Massachusetts in the US Senate — remains committed to these issues today as the nation's chief diplomat. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to protect this global asset.
Judith G. Garber is acting assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Russell F. Smith III is deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.