In late December 2022, NOAA Fisheries, responsible for managing the United States’ ocean resources, announced a plan to expand and update the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) aimed at curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing worldwide.
“The program is one of several tools NOAA utilizes to combat IUU fishing and ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in the effort to safeguard the sustainability of marine species worldwide,” Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in a statement.
“This effort to strengthen product traceability has until March 2023 to receive feedback,” Juan Carlos Sueiro, director of Fisheries for ocean conservation organization Oceana Peru, told Diálogo on January 27, about the comment period before a final rule is issued. “It is an initiative toward reducing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing […] that needs to be welcomed.”
The proposed rule would increase the number of species included in the program from approximately 1,100 to 1,672 individual species such as the red snapper, tuna, cuttlefish, squid, eel, octopus, queen conch, and Caribbean lobster. These additions will minimize the risk of mislabeling and product substitution used to bypass SIMP requirements.
“By proposing to expand the SIMP to additional at-risk species, we aim to increase our ability to identify IUU fish and fish products and deter them from entering the U.S. market,” Coit said. The U.S. established the SIMP in December 2016.
The initiative includes new language requiring importers to provide electronic data on seafood products, from point of catch to point of entry, U.S. seafood industry news site Sea Food Source reported.
IUU fishing contributes directly to overfishing, threatens the sustainability of fisheries and marine ecosystems, and undermines coastal communities and food security, India-based maritime news site Marine Insight indicated.
IUU fishing also destabilizes the security of maritime countries, economically harms legally operating fishermen, and often involves human trafficking, forced labor, and other human rights abuses.
According to InSight Crime, an international organization that investigates organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, IUU fishing also often goes hand in hand with other crimes such as narcotics trafficking. “China has been consistently ranked as the world’s worst offender of IUU fishing, due to its monumental fishing fleet in remote waters,” the organization pointed out.
In a December 6, 2022 report ADF, U.S. Africa Command’s magazine, reported that eight of the world’s top 10 companies involved in IUU fishing are Chinese.
Hundreds of Chinese vessels operate in Latin American waters year-round, and have long been accused of plundering two major fishing grounds: the waters off Argentina in the South Atlantic and those off Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in the South Pacific, InSight Crime said.
“Although China’s priority is to obtain resources for its own population, they fish for high-value products that they export. To get them to market they will have to go through the SIMP accreditation process, and starting this year also Japan’s,” Sueiro said.
In a late December piece for U.S.-based foreign policy platform War on The Rocks, U.S. Coast Guard Commander Aaron Delano-Johnson and U.S. Navy Commander Chris Bernotavicius asserted that the U.S. Coast Guard is well positioned to work with countries to push back against China’s fishing practices and take the lead on this issue.
“It [the U.S. Coast Guard] has the capabilities to provide willing partners and allies with advice and assistance on illegal fishing and can work with coastal states on identifying and remedying the threat,” Cmdr. Delano-Johnson and Cmdr. Bernotavicius said.
“Another way to prevent IUU fishing is to change certain rules such as offshore transshipments. This should have more control and a different procedure,” Sueiro said. “In the case of giant squid, it’s allowed. The reefer vessels return to China and the fishing vessels continue to catch it. There is no certainty of what they record.”
“Countries need to have a more comprehensive vision and strengthen it, not only to reach certain markets accessible through the SIMP, but to protect resources from IUU fishing and the misuses, as well as strengthen regional bodies and port governing measures at the global level,” Sueiro concluded.