WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have asked President Barack Obama to direct federal agencies to better coordinate their efforts to fight seafood fraud that they say threatens the livelihoods of American fishermen and harms consumers.
According to the senators, seafood fraud is a serious problem in the United States, with surveys showing that some common fish are mislabeled nearly all of the time. Although the United States imports more than 90 percent of seafood consumed domestically, foreign seafood is almost never inspected for fraud or legality, and the multiple agencies tasked with fighting fraud are not coordinating their efforts.
“The urgent need to fight seafood fraud and establish a standard of traceability can be met only through coordinated interagency action, and it is time for the agencies to come together to find solutions,” the Senators wrote. “In order to help address the problem of seafood fraud, we ask that you promulgate an interagency rulemaking that improves agency coordination and communication, strengthens border inspections to detect mislabeled seafood, establishes a standard for national traceability of seafood products, and ensures that consumers have access to information about where their seafood comes from. These immediate, concrete actions will help reduce the incidence of fraud in the U.S. seafood supply and will restore consumer confidence that their seafood is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.”
In the letter, the senators noted that the “government’s attempts to address this problem have been woefully inadequate.” The senators cited a 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that highlighted the problems between the three agencies with primary jurisdiction to address seafood fraud, including gaps in communication, duplicative inspections and more. The GAO found that these agencies – the Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Customs and Border Protection – could and should do more to address seafood fraud. The GAO study says that the FDA inspects less than two percent of seafood imports at the U.S. border and virtually none of that is inspected specifically for fraud or legality. The report also found instances where FDA officials inspected a seafood facility not knowing that NOAA officials had already inspected the same facility.
In 2012, then-Rep. Markey introduced his “SAFE Seafood Act” to crack down on foreign fish fraudsters, increase inspection regimes, and provide agencies with the resources to enforce laws that would protect American fishermen from fraud. Wicker is a cosponsor of the “SAFE Seafood Act.”
“Our constituents include seafood consumers, fishermen and seafood businesses, and we all have an interest in protecting our oceans in order to ensure a sustainable seafood supply for generations to come,” the senators concluded.