Conservation & Science

Taking a stand against shady seafood

The holidays came early for seafood lovers. Thanks to a new federal initiative, Americans will soon know more about where our imported seafood comes from.

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Customers use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide at a California fish market.

On Dec. 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a “traceability” program that will track certain seafood imports at risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. More than 90 percent of the seafood available to consumers in the United States is imported.

Traceability allows regulators to electronically track seafood through the supply chain—from the moment it’s wild-caught or farm-harvested, to the U.S.border. This new information will help authorities keep illegal seafood products out of the U.S., and level the playing field for American fishermen who follow the rules. And, it also makes it easier for businesses and consumers to support seafood that was produced sustainably.

As we reported last February, traceability can also cut down on seafood fraud, which happens when seafood labels mislead consumers about the identity or source of their seafood.

Monterey Bay Aquarium works globally, through industry-led coalitions and other partnerships, to improve traceability in Southeast Asia, where much of the world’s seafood is produced.     Read more…

White House honors sustainable seafood champions

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Nominee Mary Sue Milliken serves Alaska Bairdi crab passionfruit aguachile at the Champions of Change reception.

This week, the White House named 12 “Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood.” The awards recognize the people at the heart of America’s seafood industry—the fishermen, business owners, entrepreneurs, chefs and coastal leaders—who work tirelessly to support both the economic and ecological viability of our nation’s fisheries.

Thanks to their efforts and strong federal oversight, the U.S. remains a global model of seafood sustainability.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to count several of the winners and nominees among our Seafood Watch Business and Restaurant Partners, Blue Ribbon Task Force members and other collaborators. Working with Seafood Watch, they help raise consumer awareness about seafood sustainability and push for improvements in the supply chain.

Read more…

Seafood traceability: A different kind of fish tracking

You may have heard of electronic tagging — technology that lets scientists track the movement of animals. Experts at Monterey Bay Aquarium and our partner institutions have used electronic tags to track sea otters along the California coast, as well as white sharks and bluefin tunas on their meandering marine migrations.

Now we’re cheering another kind of fish tracking: the kind that happens after they’re caught. Following the movement of seafood through the supply chain, a practice known as traceability, is key to ensuring fish products sold in the U.S. are sustainable and legal.

The Obama Administration just released a proposed rule that details how a traceability system may work to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. It would also help reduce seafood fraud, which happens when consumers are misled about the identity or source of the seafood products they buy.

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The Coast Guard Cutter Rush escorts suspected IUU vessel. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama got the ball rolling on a federal effort to fight IUU fishing on a global scale. The newly announced seafood traceability program would make it easier for regulators to electronically track seafood coming into the United States — and keep illegal fish products out.

Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s Vice President of Conservation & Science and Chief Conservation Officer, welcomed the release of the proposed rule.

“IUU fishing threatens ocean health and food security, and harms coastal economies and communities,” she said. “If designed correctly, the new traceability program could create needed transparency within the complex international seafood supply chain, reduce the risk of illegal products entering U.S. commerce and advance the sustainable seafood movement.”

A 2011 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization assessment found that 25 percent of 600 fish stocks monitored worldwide are overexploited, which can lead to population collapse. Another 52 percent are “fully exploited,” meaning any increase in fishing pressure could reduce their numbers to unsustainable levels.

These numbers matter as nations work together to conserve marine life in international waters. IUU fishing undermines those cooperative efforts, threatening the long-term sustainability of commercially important fisheries like crab, tuna and shrimp. One estimate puts the cost of IUU fishing to legitimate fishing fleets and to governments at $10 billion to $23.5 billion per year.

Click here to read Margaret’s full statement about the proposed rule.

And for some big-picture inspiration about why it matters:


Featured photo: Traceability will give consumers more confidence that the fish they’re buying was legally harvested. Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries.

Administration advances efforts to fight pirate fishing and protect the ocean

This week, the Obama Administration pressed ahead on two key ocean conservation initiatives to step up the global fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing (often referred to as “pirate” or “black market” fishing) and enhance conservation of ocean wildlife – both critical steps to  restore ocean health.

The White House National Ocean Council Committee on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud (NOC Committee) shared details of the Administration’s proposal for a U.S. system to track and trace seafood that could make it easier to block illegally harvested or produced seafood and prevent seafood fraud – including the principles for determining risk and some of the priority seafood they  may target for attention. The public can offer feedback about the proposed principles for determining risk and species for the traceability program during a 30-day comment period that opens on August 3.

“It’s really exciting to see rapid progress on a U.S. seafood traceability program,” says Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science. “Establishing a comprehensive and effective traceability program is a critical step in the global fight against IUU fishing and piracy. It’s an important tool to document the legality and sustainability of seafood entering the U.S. market – especially because most seafood sold here is imported.

“The U.S. sets a high conservation bar domestically – in both fishery management and ocean protection  ̶  and has a strong record of compliance with international conservation and management measures,” she adds. “Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t always play by the same rules. That’s a bad thing when 90% of the seafood we eat is imported, and at least half of that is from aquaculture operations outside of the United States. It’s challenging to advance ocean conservation when the playing field is not level, and we appreciate the Administration’s willingness to include a broad range of representative species  ̶  including those produced from aquaculture operations  ̶  in the proposed traceability program.”

In another positive development, the Administration – led by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman  ̶  moved closer to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that include ocean conservation trade measures that could deter IUU fishing, prohibit fishing subsidies, promote the conservation of at-risk marine species such as sharks and turtles, and combat wildlife trafficking, among other provisions.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium supports including strong ocean conservation measures in all international trade agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Spring says. “The interconnected nature of wildlife and ecosystems here in the Pacific and across the global ocean, and the market demands that are depleting fisheries and marine life on a worldwide scale, make international cooperation on market-based enforcement and compliance measures absolutely essential. We appreciate efforts by the U.S. Trade Representative to leverage trade agreements to fight these serious and growing challenges to ocean health, particularly IUU fishing.

“Linking trade measures and agreements to important conservation and social goals can create incentives for nations to adopt and enforce compliance tools, such as the Port State Measures Agreement and other efforts to combat IUU fishing and human trafficking at the global scale. Additionally, it’s important for trade agreements to incorporate provisions that end damaging fishing subsidies, promote sustainable fisheries management and encourage conservation of highly threatened ocean wildlife that are critical to the long-term health of our ocean ecosystems and economies.

“The Administration’s coordinated, multijurisdictional approach to address IUU fishing and other unsustainable practices will advance ocean conservation and ensure that future generations can rely on benefits the ocean provides,” she adds. “We look forward hearing more about the specific provisions of the TPP agreement as the negotiations conclude this week.”

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