Playing by the rules can cost a lot of money. Monitoring systems, cost of crew, licenses, and vessel safety requirements all come with a price tag. However, for many fishing enterprises in the world, these requirements either don’t exist or they are ignored. Some seafood dealers will also improve the price they get for their products by mislabeling it as a higher value species.
An estimated one-third of seafood sold in the United States is suspected of being mislabeled, and 20-30% of seafood likely comes from IUU (illegal, unregulated, or unreported) fishing, costing the globe $10-23 billion in lost revenue annually. This illegal product creates a competitive disadvantage for well-managed domestic product because of its ability to enter the marketplace at much lower prices.
To address this issue, President Obama established a Task Force last June to develop a set of recommendations for the implementation of a comprehensive framework that will combat seafood fraud and IUU fishing. The Task Force published a set of recommendations that address four general themes focused on combatting IUU fishing and fraud: Working internationally on globally shared strategies; Strengthening enforcement tools; Growing partnerships with governments, industry, and NGOs; and Creating a traceability program that tracks seafood from the point of harvest to its entry in the U.S. marketplace.
Recommendations for work internationally include expanding vessel monitoring requirements to vessels overseas and implementing a Global Record of Fishing Vessels that includes unique vessel identification numbers. Traceability efforts would identify electronic systems that collect catch information—such as vessel, species, gear type, and location of harvest—and track the data as the product moves through the supply chain and across political boundaries. The electronic systems would be interoperable to enable seamless transmission.
Meanwhile, the Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop a standards-based architecture that enables traceability and interoperability of data systems from one country and business to another. They plan to strengthen the seafood industry’s investment in traceability by outlining how it can reduce waste, build consumer trust, and increase efficiencies.
The seafood industry has quickly become global. In fact 91% of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported. Traceability efforts are increasingly important opportunities to create an even playing field and a more competitive landscape for well-managed domestic seafood. Not only do they help ensure that products are harvested under important regulations, traceability can also help differentiate seafood to a discerning marketplace that wants to know where its food is coming from.