House bill targets illegal fishing, seafood trade slavery

May 13, 2021

A bipartisan bill introduced this week seeks to end slavery and human rights abuses in the international seafood supply chain and fight illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, commonly known as IUU fishing.

"IUU fishing is an environmental and humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. should be a global leader in solving it," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife and sponsor of the bill, H.R. 3075, called the "Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act."

"Illegal fishing operations damage ocean ecosystems and healthy fisheries, and are often the same ones that rely on atrocious, illegal practices like human trafficking and forced labor," added Huffman, who introduced the bill Tuesday with Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).

Among other things, the bill would expand NOAA's seafood import monitoring program to cover all species and increase data requirements for monitoring, including the consideration of labor conditions and improved detection of imports deemed to be at risk of IUU fishing.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office criticized U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials for not doing enough to stop the use of slaves and illegal labor practices in the seafood industry.

Customs works with officials at the seafood import monitoring program and others to find seafood that has been illegally produced (E&E News PM, June 18, 2020).

The focus on the issue has grown in Congress in recent years, with the U.S. importing nearly 90% of its seafood.

In 2016, the Associated Press won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series of stories that exposed the use of slaves in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. The stories showed how the seafood ended up in U.S. supermarkets. After the 18-month investigation, more than 2,000 slaves were freed.

The Huffman-Graves bill would also establish new seafood traceability and labelling requirements, increase outreach on seafood safety and fraud issues, and seek to improve both seafood inspections and the federal enforcement of seafood fraud.

Another provision in the bill would expand the authority of U.S. officials to revoke port privileges for any fishing vessel associated with IUU fishing.

"Our new legislation tackles IUU fishing to protect human lives, promote responsible fishing around the world, and level the playing field for U.S. fishermen," Huffman said in a statement.

"Not only do we need to ensure an ethical seafood supply chain, but we also need to stop IUU products from entering our markets and competing with those who follow the rules and who keep our domestic fishing industry sustainable."

Up to a third of the annual global seafood catch, or as much as 56 billion pounds, is the product of IUU fishing, according to estimates.

In the United States, a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission in 2019 found nearly 11% of the nation's total seafood imports — worth $24 billion — were the products of illegal or unreported fishing.

That report also found that if those IUU imports were eliminated, U.S. fishers would increase their income by nearly $61 million per year.

"The United States can close our markets to illegally sourced seafood, and this bill offers a promising pathway to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen, protect workers at sea and prevent seafood fraud," said Beth Lowell, deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns for Oceana, one of a handful of organizations that endorsed the bill.

Fisheries research

Separately, Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young introduced H.R. 3128, a bill that would establish the American Fisheries Advisory Committee, a panel that would aid in the awarding of federal grants for fisheries research and development.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee yesterday approved its version of the legislation, S. 497, the "American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act," sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) (Greenwire, May 12).

By:  Rob Hotakainen
Source: E&E News