by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
With the “Our Ocean” Conference as a backdrop, President Barack Obama announced that he would use presidential authority to protect fragile marine life and curb the black market for fish, as well as combat origin of seafood product fraud.
The announcement was made at the U.S. Department of State’s global conference aimed to draw an action plan to clean up the oceans. Officials from 80 countries attended the event hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. It is the most visible effort to date by the Obama administration to lead a global conservation effort for the oceans.
The President directed federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combating seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market. He vowed to create a government program to combat black market fishing and seafood fraud, in which seafood products are mislabeled to hide their origin.
According to a White House figures, 20 percent of the wild marine fish caught each year are part of the black market, at a cost of $23 billion to the legitimate fishing industry and more than 30 percent of current seafood is mislabeled; costing $23 billion to the legitimate fishing industry.
GSI Supports President
“The administration’s announcement is welcomed by the Gulf Seafood Institute,” said Margaret Henderson, the organization’s executive director. “Seafood fraud, including mislabeling for country of origin and species, has long been a threat to the Gulf seafood community. By enhancing enforcement of current law and exploring innovative new solutions with the Task Force, this program should give consumers even more confidence that when they buy from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, they’re buying the best. ”
According to Henderson, who said GSI is anxious to assist in the President’s efforts, the announcement could also signal the Administration’s willingness to create a national sustainability and traceability program, a concept that has already gained traction and support in the Gulf with several seafood traceability programs, including Gulf Seafood Trace, Audubon’s G.U.L.F Sustainable Seafood Project and the State of Louisiana’s Seafood Certification program.
Gulf of Mexico fisheries are some of the top suppliers of seafood in the contiguous United States. “As an organization dedicated to increasing and communicating the sustainability of our marine resources, we are excited about the President’s announcement,” said Julianna Mullen, Assistant Director of Audubon’s G.U.L.F. Sustainable Seafood Project. “G.U.L.F. is excited to see increased recognition of the importance of traceability and elimination of IUU fishing. We fully support any endeavor seeking to ensure the seafood we enjoy comes from well-managed fisheries like those of the Gulf States region.”
GSI is also working with Congress on a national seafood traceability and sustainability-labeling program that is outlined in the Senate’s draft reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. “What we know for a fact is that American shoppers crave more information about the the seafood they buy. GSI and our partners throughout the Gulf have known this for years and have responded accordingly. Hopefully the traceability and sustainability programs already being implemented in our neck of the woods can help serve as a roadmap for how to do this right on a national scale,” said Henderson.
Clamping Down on Illegal Fishing
In his address following the President, Sec. Kerry said the move to clamp down on illegal fishing meant all seafood sold in the United States would be “sustainable and traceable.”
“I’m very appreciative for the President’s announcement about the effort to deal with illegal fish that come to the marketplace,” said Kerry. “We can all do more, we have an ability to really be able to begin to diminish the impact of illegal and undocumented, unwarranted fishing.”
The announcement won the support of many environmental groups, as well as Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio who said, “it was fantastic to hear President Obama commit to expanding marine reserves in U.S. waters and taking serious steps to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace.”
DiCaprio went on to say his foundation would donate $7 million over the next two years to projects helping the oceans.
Oceana, a non-governmental environmental organization, hailed the announcement as a huge victory for our wallets, our health and our oceans.
“President Obama’s announcement is a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide,” said the organizations campaign director Beth Lowell in a published release. “This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood.”
By tracing seafood from the water to the plate, consumers have more information about the fish they purchase. Seafood traceability also protects hard working fisherman and businesses that are undercut by unfair competition, while closing markets to illegally caught products that threaten the long-term stability of ocean ecosystems.
“Fresh seafood is a healthy staple of the American diet. The Gulf of Mexico is a tremendous source for this seafood, harvested by hard-working American fishermen,” said Missisppi’s GSI board member Corky Perret. “Knowing the source of the seafood we eat is essential to consumer safety and satisfaction. And effective seafood identification supports a healthy diet, consumer safety and American jobs.