In an effort to eradicate illegal fishing and seafood fraud, the Obama Administration is launching a fish tracking system that would eventually tell consumers where their fish was caught, processed and stored.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews announced the initiative at the Seafood Expo conference in Boston on Sunday, describing an action plan to stamp out imports of illegally caught fish.
"The steps the United States has taken to be a leader in environmental stewardship are paying off," he said. "However, our nation's fisheries remain threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, which negatively affects our markets."
While seafood industry groups are skeptical about potentially onerous and expensive tracking mandates in some fisheries where there are no problems, environmental organizations lauded the new rules that will roll out over the next few years.
"Today's announcement is proof that the Obama administration is committed to stopping seafood fraud and ending global illegal fishing," said Beth Lowell, a senior campaign director of nonprofit Oceana.
An Oceana study found between 20 to 32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported to the U.S. comes from illegal fishing, either fishing in closed areas, catching threatened or endangered species or using banned gear, that damages marine ecosystems. The illegal takes cost an estimated $32 billion a year.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Kathleen Sullivan told U.S. seafood industry leaders the Administration does not want to add an additional burden to industry, and said they plan to work with the Department of Homeland Security to create a trusted trader program.
Ninety percent of seafood in the U.S. is imported, and about 1 percent of seafood imports are inspected, according to NOAA.
The new strategy does not require and changes in legislation, but instead will involve interagency and international collaboration; Sullivan said they will also tighten enforcement of existing laws that already ban importing illegally-caught seafood.