Last week, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) released an exhaustive report of the agency’s findings following an investigation of Seafood Obtained via Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: U.S. Imports and Economic Impact on U.S. Commercial Fisheries requested by the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In its report, the ITC found that seafood harvested through illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing likely accounted for more than one out of every ten pounds of seafood imported into the United States market in 2019, worth an estimated $2.4 billion. The ITC concluded that over thirteen percent of the wild-caught seafood imported into the United States had been harvested through IUU fishing. The ITC additionally explained that a significant amount of farmed seafood imported into the United States acted as a conduit for seafood harvested through IUU fishing reaching American consumers as “IUU products are often used to make fishmeal and fish oil,” concluding that “IUU marine-capture products used in feed ingredients are estimated to be equivalent to nearly 9 percent of the harvested weight of farmed seafood exported to the United States in 2019.”
If seafood harvested through IUU fishing was denied access to the U.S. market, the ITC’s report explained that this “would have a positive effect on U.S. commercial fishers, with estimated increases in U.S. prices, landings (catches of fish), and operating income . . .” The ITC calculated that the removal of IUU seafood imports from the market would lead to an increase of $60.8 million in the total operating income of the U.S. commercial fishing industry, “with the largest increases in operating income includ[ing] those targeting warmwater shrimp, sockeye salmon, bigeye tuna, and squid.”
The ITC also noted that while the agency’s analysis attempted to account for additional IUU fishing activities through the use of forced labor onboard fishing vessels, the adjustments made to the agency’s models “did not incorporate different kinds of labor violations within global seafood supply chains.” The ITC explained that “[w]ithin processing facilities, forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking as well as breaches of health and safety protocols are known problems” but that such violations were not incorporated within the agency’s estimates of the prevalence of wild-caught seafood harvested through IUU fishing. However, the ITC also explained that to the extent that forced labor continued to be employed in seafood supply chains, this was likely to be found in foreign shrimp exporters’ persistent reliance on unregulated, outside contract labor for pre-processing activities prior to delivery to the packer: “Processing sector labor violations, particularly child labor, are particularly present in ‘tier 2’ processing operations, such as shrimp peeling ‘sheds,’ that are part of extended supply chains.” In contrast, “[p]rocessing sector labor violations are likely more uncommon within ‘tier 1’ processing operations (where seafood is packaged), a pattern that may be due to the need for more rigorous and formal processing practices related to food safety.”
A review of the ITC’s analysis indicates that the single largest impact of seafood harvested through IUU fishing has been on the U.S. market for shrimp. Reviewing available information regarding the extent of wild-caught shrimp harvested overseas through IUU fishing, the ITC found that the United States likely imported $712 million worth of wild-caught warmwater shrimp in 2019, of which twenty percent was harvested through IUU fishing. The $142.7 million in imports of wild-caught warmwater shrimp harvested through IUU fishing was second to only imports of swimming crab harvested through IUU fishing ($161.1 million) in terms of overall value from a single wild-caught seafood product category and represented over ten percent of the total estimated value of all imports of seafood harvested through IUU fishing into the United States in 2019.
Moreover, the ITC found that 6.6 percent of all farmed warmwater shrimp imported into the United States in 2019 had been raised on feed incorporating seafood harvested through IUU fishing, with these imports valued at $346.6 million. This total was second only to imports farmed Atlantic salmon fed seafood harvested through IUU fishing ($444.1 million) in terms of overall value from a single farmed seafood product category. The total value of imported farmed warmwater shrimp utilizing IUU fish feed accounted for roughly 37 percent of the total value of all farmed seafood imports raised using IUU fish feed ($945.1 million) in United States.
Combined, the ITC estimated that the United States had imported nearly half a billion dollars ($489.3 million) of warmwater shrimp either harvested through IUU fishing or raised on fish feed harvested through IUU fishing. On its own, warmwater shrimp accounted for over twenty percent of the total value ($2.4 billion) of IUU seafood imports into the United States in 2019.
Because IUU seafood imported into the United States is concentrated in shrimp imports, the adverse impact of these imports on the U.S. shrimp industry has been significant. The ITC’s report estimates that the elimination of IUU seafood imports from the U.S. market would lead to a 10.3 percent increase in the overall volume of shrimp landed annually by shrimpers operating in the U.S. warmwater shrimp industry, with a 2.1 percent increase in the landed prices paid for domestic warmwater shrimp. For the entire U.S. shrimp industry, including shrimpers operating in the warmwater and coldwater shrimp fisheries and U.S. shrimp processors, the removal of IUU seafood imports from this market would lead to an annual increase in operating income of $13.1 million, or 22 percent of the total additional revenue increase that would be experienced by the entire U.S. commercial seafood industry.
The table below sets out a full summary of the estimated additional annual operating income that would be realized by the U.S. commercial fishing industry with the elimination of IUU seafood imports from the U.S. market:
“The Southern Shrimp Alliance has taken a leading role in working to eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing because the U.S. shrimp industry has directly borne the harm caused by the presence of these seafood in the supply chains for imports over the last twenty years,” said John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “The Commission’s report, based on the tremendous work of the agency’s dedicated staff, confirms what shrimpers see every day – imports undercutting the prices we receive at the dock. With roughly a half a billion dollars of IUU shrimp imported into the U.S. market annually, the Commission’s report makes clear that pervasive IUU fishing has warped shrimp supply chains and that government action is needed to prevent U.S. consumers from unwittingly supporting these harmful practices.”
Read the U.S. International Trade Commission’s report, Seafood Obtained via Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: U.S. Imports and Economic Impact on U.S. Commercial Fisheries, Inv. No. 332-575, USITC Pub. 5168 (Feb. 2021), here: https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/pub5168.pdf