On August 28, a federal court upheld the U.S. government’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), which is intended to prevent illegal seafood from entering U.S. borders and protect U.S. fishers from unfair competition.
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The mandatory compliance date for the Commerce Department rule is Jan. 1, 2018. It will require some seafood importers to provide information to border inspectors, such as the kind of fish, and how and where it was caught or farmed.
National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), published the final rule establishing SIMP on Dec. 9, 2016, which is also known as the seafood traceability rule. In last month’s ruling, the court rejected a challenge to the rule by The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and eight individual seafood companies, which filed a lawsuit in January.
“SIMP creates a new opportunity for law enforcement to reduce the trade of illegal products, and to take a more globalized stance on sustainable fisheries management,” says Scott Zimmerman, MSc, CP-FS, CEO, Safe Quality Seafood Associates, a consultancy based in Miami, Fla., focused on seafood safety, regulatory compliance, and third-party certification standards. “This will require permitting and recordkeeping, which will provide traceability from harvesting and production to point of entry into the United States.”
John Henderschedt, director, NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection, Silver Spring, Md., a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of the oceans and atmosphere, adds that SIMP will provide additional protections for the national economy, global food security, and the sustainability of ocean resources.
Zimmerman maintains that the NFI and representatives of the seafood industry were right to challenge the new importation law, as other imported commodities do not face equivalent levels of regulatory oversight. Furthermore, “One needs to factor in the inherent complexities of fisheries management,” he says. “Seafood supply chains are comprised of a complex network of resources all of which the importer must now verify through compliance documentation. This will be a major challenge.”
Zimmerman was pleased that the court upheld the ruling because the U.S. imports more than 90 percent of its seafood and something must be done to address companies that lack sustainable sourcing policies or don’t operate based on ethical standards. “This will be a process of seeking balance between our ethical responsibilities as a country, and the needs of consumers who greatly depend on imported seafood,” he says.
When paired with U.S. enforcement efforts and the engagement of, and cooperation with, other countries, Henderschedt says SIMP and others like it are critical to curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. “It will help ensure that seafood imported into the United States is legally harvested and truthfully represented, which levels the playing field for U.S. fishermen and others around the world who play by the rules,” he concludes.