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TriplePundit Sponsored Series

Sustainable Seafood

President Obama Takes On Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing

By Jen Boynton

When we started this series on Sustainable Seafood, we couldn't have imagined that it would culminate with action taken at the highest level of U.S. government. Thanks for reading, Mr. President!

This morning, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to tackle seafood fraud and illegal fishing in the United States. His announcement coincides with the Global "Our Ocean" conference convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In President Obama's announcement, he referenced the negative financial repercussions of overfishing as one of the key reasons for the initiative:

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to undermine the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks, both in the United States and around the world.  Global losses attributable to the black market from IUU fishing are estimated to be $10-23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen in the United States and around the world.

As Beth Lowell of Oceana noted in an earlier post, between 20 percent and 32 percent of seafood imported into the U.S. comes from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. "These pirate fishermen often use illegal gear, fish in prohibited areas or catch endangered and threatened species. Illegal fishing is a major threat to the worldwide fishing industry, undermining decades of conservation measures and provoking billions of dollars in economic losses." Oceana sites traceability -- that is, tracking seafood from catch to plate -- as one of the key solutions to the global problem.

President Obama's initiative starts with stronger guidelines and better enforcement of existing traceability standards: 

 It shall be the policy of the United States for all executive departments and agencies (agencies) to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud by strengthening coordination and implementation of relevant existing authorities and, where appropriate, by improving the transparency and traceability of the seafood supply chain.

Oceana hailed the announcement as a huge victory for ocean health. Said Lowell:

President Obama’s announcement is a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide. This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood.

The U.S. has long been a leader in the fight against illegal trade and fraud. We applaud the Obama administration for taking the helm on this comprehensive approach to ensure that our seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.

The initiative also includes language directing existing agencies to support international nations in setting up similar initiatives. Finally, the order creates a task force, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, specifically charged with  combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud.

Secretary Kerry spoke in favor of the announcement in his conference remarks:

I’m very appreciative for the President’s announcement about the effort to deal with illegal fish that come to the marketplace. We can all do more, and if there’s no market, we have an ability to really be able to begin to diminish the impact of illegal and undocumented, unwarranted fishing, and we want to do that, needless to say.

Leonardo DiCaprio was also on hand to present at the conference and shared his support for the initiative. Said DiCaprio, "It’s fantastic to start off the day by hearing President Obama commit to expanding marine reserves in U.S. waters and taking serious steps to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace." He went on to describe the negative impacts of overfishing and pollution he's personally witnessed around the world.

Right now, fishermen are incentivized to commit fraud because they can earn good money on illegal catches without much risk of getting caught. Traceability removes those incentives, which will shift the market in favor of sustainably caught fish. Sustainable, market-based solutions are our bread and butter here at TriplePundit, and we are thrilled to see the U.S. executive branch take additional actions to protect our oceans and future fish stocks.

Image credit: State Department photo/ Public Domain

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Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton