Russian seafood ban without traceability called into question

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President Biden’s ban on Russian seafood is futile without NOAA’s expanded traceability requirements

After Russia’s senseless invasion of Ukraine, President Biden issued an executive order banning the import of Russian seafood. Yet, as was brought to light during the House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing yesterday, a Russian seafood ban is not as straightforward as one might think. Due to the lack of traceability of seafood throughout the supply chain, the story is much more complicated.

For the United States, banning Russian seafood imports is no small feat – we imported more than $1.2 billion worth of crab, cod and other fish from Russia in 2021. ban on Russian seafood is starting to get complicated due to a lack of traceability and transparency in the seafood industry. Under current import requirements, fish caught illegally in Russia can be sent to China to be processed and then imported into the United States as a Chinese product, thereby obscuring its origins and undermining efforts to exclude Russian products from American commerce. According to a 2021 report by the International Trade Commission, Russia is one of the main sources of seafood imports caught by IUU fishing, and a full third of wild processed fish imported from China in 2019 actually were captured by Russian ships.

Unfortunately, in our current system, it is difficult to tell where most of the fish on our plates comes from. Adding to this complexity, the United States’ own traceability system only applies to about 45% of seafood imported into the United States, creating a gaping loophole for anyone trying to get away with selling fruit. illegal sea. To learn more about this, one of the hearing witnesses, Sally Yozell of the Stimson Center, published an op-ed in the Seattle Times, Are you sure the seafood you just bought is not not russians?

Representative Huffman of California

The Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Jared Huffman of California, began yesterday’s hearing by striking at the heart of this issue: “How will it actually work if most seafood is not tracked?”. After giving several examples of illegal fishing and forced labor in the seafood supply chain – citing the well-documented routine human rights abuses that occur at sea and in processing facilities, he shared that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency with owner of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), refused to testify at the hearing. Rep. Huffman, who advocated for legislative reforms to extend SIMP to all species imported into the United States in HR3075, repeated throughout his statement that “NOAA did not act,highlighting the agency’s lack of action on this issue despite strong calls from Congress to do so.

Sally Yozel

Sally Yozel, senior fellow and director of environmental security at the Stimson Center, began the hearing by saying that “Despite the good intentions of dealing an economic blow to Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, this ban will not work without complete traceability of seafood products, and real information on the origin of the catch. Additionally, she stated the obvious: “As for the famous Russian catches, American consumers don’t want to buy them and chefs don’t want to serve them. »

Dr. Tabitha Mallory

Dr. Tabitha Grace Mallory, The Founder and CEO of the China Ocean Institute noted that “according to an index, in 2021, China scored the highest in the world on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing measures, and Russia got the second best. This means that two of the countries with some of the highest rates of illegal fishing and forced labor are still able to import their product into the United States. Almost all of the witnesses, including Dr. Mallory, called for an expansion of the SIMP program noting that, “A more robust US traceability program would reduce the chances of the US importing seafood from not just countries like Russia, but also IUU fishing activity in places like North Korea, Indonesia, some countries in South America and on the high seas as well.

Austin brush

Austin brush, a senior analyst from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies clearly described the problem and what is needed; “The lack of transparency and traceability is a major impediment to the successful implementation of Russian sanctions and the recent seafood import ban. The expansion of SIMP to encompass all seafood species entering in the United States, chain-of-custody data and beneficial ownership reporting is essential to ensure that Russian seafood cannot enter the United States.

After Rep. Huffman’s good start to the hearing, Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii questioned NOAA’s absence and asked further questions about why traceability is so critical to making this ban effective. . In a show of bipartisan support, Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, one of the original cosponsors of the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act (HR 3075) along with Rep. Huffman, focused on the goal broader seafood traceability to allow the United States to crack down. on forced labor at sea and prevent illegal seafood products from entering the lucrative United States seafood market. He shared that consumers deserve choice and that we need to level the rules for anglers who play by the rules. The purpose of HR 3075, he claimed, is to hold “countries like China and Russia accountable which have some of the worst illegal fishing fleets in the world. It’s unfair competition, it’s overfishing, it’s a lack of sustainable practices. These are goals we should all share. Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico also questioned witnesses about concerning gaps in seafood traceability and the need to shut them down when it comes to Russian seafood.

President Biden’s ban on Russian seafood imports highlights the shortcomings and permissiveness of the US seafood import system and what is needed for seafood traceability and transparency. to an extension of the SIMP to all species from Democrats, Republicans and witnesses were clear during this hearing. As Austin Brush says, “As a major seafood importer and a leader in effective fisheries management, the United States has an opportunity to set the gold standard for transparency and traceability in the seafood industry implementing these changes. The current system, and therefore the Russian seafood ban, will not be effective until NOAA expands this program. Significant portions of Rep. Huffman’s and Rep. Grave’s bill, HR 3075, were included in the COMPETES passed by the House. Adopting these provisions to combat illegal fishing and forced labor through the final innovation and trade package would be a critical step for U.S. leadership in the fight against IUU fishing and human rights abuses. people in the seafood sector.

Sally Yozell laid out the potential for the next steps beautifully stating that,

  • “The president could issue an executive order tomorrow;
  • NOAA could show leadership and come up with an emergency rule;
  • or Congress could enact the bipartisan SIMP provisions included in the America COMPETES Act and appropriate the necessary funding for NOAA to adequately implement a robust SIMP.

Luckily, there is a clear path to stopping the import of “Putin Pollock” altogether. NOAA has the ability to impose traceability requirements that follow all seafood products through the supply chain before they enter the country.

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