Estimates of Illegal and Unreported Fish in Seafood Imports to the USA
This study looks at the prevalence and impact of illegal and unreported (IU) fishing on the U.S. market, specifically, “a new effort to study and quantify the dimensions of the problem from the perspective of the United States as a major seafood market.” Researchers looked at a wide range of sources to estimate the percentages of IU fish that enter the U.S. market, and also provide a breakdown as to how the IU fishing of different species fits into the overall picture. What results is a situation that demands attention from both policy-makers and consumers to rectify.
The problem of illegal and unreported fish entering the U.S. market is a significant one that demands attention. According to the authors of a study, “in 2011, an estimated 20–32% of the wild-caught marine imports into the USA (by weight) were from illegal and unreported catches, with a value between $1.3 billion and $2.1 billion.” How did this context arise and what can be done about it? Researchers attempted to take full stock of the problem, and using “more than 180 different sources […] including academic papers, fisheries association reports and articles, national government or provincial authorities’ reports, official RFMO data or publications, industry data, NGO publications, and press reports,” they produced a paper that begins to connect the dots on a diffuse industry.
Their task was not easy. “Linking U.S. imports of wild-caught seafood products and IU fishing in the source fishery,” they say, “required a thorough examination of global seafood supply chains” which they refer to as “highly internationalized” and “one of the most complex and opaque of all natural commodities.” Further complicating matters is the fact that shipments through the network are often done in very high volumes, and current border practices are woefully unable to distinguish illegal catch from legal ones. This leads to a situation where both consumers and vendors, in a broad sense, are unaware of their part in supporting IU fishing.
Despite the opaqueness of the fishing industry and the problematic nature of reporting on its mechanics, the authors establish several key conclusions about IU fishing and how its import into the U.S. Firstly, they identify problem areas that need to be addressed, including supply chain transparency, several Russian products processed in China, tuna and shrimp fishing, and more. They offer some potential remedies, in particular: more transparent catch documentation, moratoriums on different kinds of fishing, and greater policy enforcement from state actors wherever possible. In this context, they conclude that “the United States funds significant profits from illegal fishing activities by providing major opportunities for marketing illegally caught fish,” and that it is incumbent on the U.S. to be proactive in creating solutions to the problem.
Illegal and unreported catches represented 20–32% by weight of wild-caught seafood imported to the USA in 2011, as determined from robust estimates, including uncertainty, of illegal and unreported fishing activities in the source countries. These illegal imports are valued at between $1.3 and $2.1 billion, out of a total of $16.5 billion for the 2.3 million tonnes of edible seafood imports, including farmed products. This trade represents between 4% and 16% of the value of the global illegal fish catch and reveals the unintentional role of the USA, one of the largest seafood markets in the world, in funding the profits of illegal fishing. Supply chain case studies are presented for tuna, wild shrimp and Chinese re-processed Russian pollock, salmon and crab imported to the USA. To address this critical issue of unintended financing of illegal fishing, possible remedies from industry practices and government policies may include improved chain of custody and traceability controls and an amendment to the USA Lacey Act.