Southern Shrimp Alliance Requests that National Ocean Council Committee Designate Shrimp an “At Risk” Species

Yesterday, the Southern Shrimp Alliance submitted formal comments to the National Ocean Council (NOC) Committee regarding “principles” to be used in determining which seafood species are “at risk” for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and seafood fraud.  In those comments, the Southern Shrimp Alliance observed that the “possible principles” identified in the request for comments published in the Federal Register strongly support a determination that shrimp is a seafood species “at risk” for IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

While also suggesting two additional principles to be considered by the NOC Committee, the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s comments included a presentation to NOAA’s Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection titled “Overview of Fraud in Shrimp Trade.”  This presentation provided a broad overview of historical issues confronted by the domestic shrimp industry regarding competition with falsely labeled and fraudulently-traded imported shrimp.

In addition to the comments from the Southern Shrimp Alliance, the NOC Committee received dozens of comments from other individuals, businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations.  Some of these also highlighted continuing significant concerns with IUU fishing and seafood fraud in shrimp trade.

For example, Oceana submitted comments summarizing their past findings regarding shrimp mislabeling:

Shrimp

Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood product, yet they are often given little information about where it comes from or even if it is wild or farmed. In our 2014 shrimp testing report, we found that 30 percent of the 143 shrimp products sampled from 111 vendors visited nationwide were misrepresented. Of the 70 restaurants visited, 31 percent sold misrepresented products, while 41 percent of the 41 grocery stores and markets visited sold misrepresented products.  Highlights include:
  •   The most common species substitution was farmed whiteleg shrimp (L. vannamei) sold as “wild” shrimp and “Gulf” shrimp;
  •   Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected and identified were not previously known to be sold in the U.S.;
  •   A banded coral “shrimp,” which is an aquarium pet not intended to be consumed as food, was found commingled with another unidentifiable shrimp in a bag of frozen wild salad-sized shrimp; and
  •    Overall, 30% of the shrimp products surveyed in grocery stores lacked information on country of origin, 29% lacked farmed/wild information and one in five did not provide either.

These results clearly show that misrepresentation and mislabeling of shrimp is prevalent in the marketplace.  Lack of clear labeling not only leaves consumers in the dark, but it also hurts honest fishermen who are trying to sell their products into the market.

Noting that its investigation of shrimp indicated that “farmed shrimp were substituted for wild shrimp in 60 percent of our samples,” Oceana’s comments also emphasized the risk to consumers posed by shrimp mislabeling:

The FDA requires importers and processors of seafood to know whether the products being processed are farmed or wild species to control and monitor for the risks of regulated and unregulated aquaculture chemicals.   A Consumer Reports study released in April 2015 found that some of the farmed shrimp it tested contained potentially pathogenic bacteria, including Salmonella, Vibrio, Listeria, or E. coli and two percent tested positive for the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).  The report found that imported, farm-raised shrimp are often given antibiotics that are illegal in the United States, such as tetracyclines. FDA has also detained or refused a larger number of shrimp imports at the border recently for antibiotic residue violations.  If seafood is mislabeled as to its method of production, these types of seafood risks cannot be properly controlled.

 In addition, comments submitted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in conjunction with TRAFFIC highlighted the involvement of shrimp in IUU fishing:  “Prawns/Shrimp – In December 2014, a Panamanian-flagged, Chinese-manned vessel was seized by Indonesian officials. The officials discovered 900 tons of illegally caught fish and prawns in the ship’s hold.”  The comments reported that WWF offices have directly confronted IUU fishing in offices across the world, including shrimp in Argentina, coastal East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, & Mozambique), Indonesia, and Pakistan.  The comments also summarized a recent review published in Marine Policy concluding that wild-caught shrimp imports from Mexico, amongst other products, carried “particularly high levels” of possible IUU infection.

Although not mentioned in WWF/TRAFFIC’s comments, the latest official statistics show significant growth in the volume of imports from areas identified by these NGOs.  For example, the official statistics indicate that through the first third of this year, frozen non-breaded warmwater shrimp imports from Pakistan are over 1,000% larger than they were during the first four months of 2014.  In fact, the total volume of shrimp imports from Pakistan between January and April of this year is more than what the United States has imported from that country in any single year since 2001.  Further, frozen non-breaded warmwater shrimp imports from Mexico are 90% higher through the first four months of this year than they were over the first four months of 2014.  And the total volume of frozen non-breaded warmwater shrimp imported from Argentina into the United States in 2014 was larger, by a substantial margin, than any previous year, with imports remaining at nearly the same level in 2015.

The NOC Committee also received comments from the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) that distinguished between IUU fishing and seafood fraud, while expressing concerns that the development of rules regarding traceability programs could violate U.S. law and/or lead to challenges at the World Trade Organization.  With regard to U.S. law, NFI observed:

Though appreciative of this opportunity to comment here, NFI is compelled to point out that the Task Force’s solicitation of public input in this manner does not and cannot substitute for formal notice-and-comment rulemaking by Executive Branch Department on any requirement – traceability-related or not – applicable to industry.  Unless “appropriate action” by agencies such as NOAA and FDA means notice-and-comment rulemaking, interested parties will remain unable to understand and react to any number of crucial outstanding issues.  Those issues include at the very least the precise statutory and regulatory basis for new traceability, economic integrity, or other requirements; the exact wording of changes to affected provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations; and, in final rulemaking, the relevant agency’s considered replies to matters raised by commenters.  That is to say nothing of the potentially mandated Office of Management and Budget review of any rulemaking deemed economically significant and a host of other requirements governing the Federal regulatory process.  See 5 U.S.C. 501 et seq.; Executive Order No. 12866, Regulatory Planning and Review (Sept. 30, 1993).  The Task Force is simply not engaged in rulemaking, and the right of NFI, its member companies, and others to review and react to changes sought by the Administration via rulemaking is undiminished by the Task Force’s solicitation of public input here. 

Regarding the WTO, NFI warned that any action taken could lead to (potentially unjustified) retaliation against U.S. seafood exports:

If the Task Force’s work translates into at-risk designations and differentiation without sufficient factual justification – either on an import versus import basis, or on a U.S. product versus import basis – then the at-risk analysis and the traceability requirements imposed as a consequence will be vulnerable to attack by fellow WTO Members.  That legal vulnerability, as always, could then result in reaction – justified or not – against the nearly $6 billion in annual U.S. seafood exports, in the form of copycat regulation or even retaliatory tariffs aimed specifically at U.S. harvesters and their exported product.

 NFI stressed efforts that the industry has undertaken to eliminate fraud in seafood trade:

From an industry perspective, NFI members have come to a market solution – the establishment of the Better Seafood Board (BSB), an association of companies each of which pledges to abide by federal prohibitions against mislabeling, short-weighting, and other illegal practices that cheat NFI companies and the consumers they serve.  The BSB was the result of NFI members’ desire to rid the industry of unscrupulous vendors willing to defraud customers and to highlight for buyers at the processor, distributor, retail and restaurant levels, those seafood providers that have systems in place to ensure that their products are properly labeled for weights and counts, country of origin and species.  Each NFI member CEO has committed to only sell products properly labeled for weights, origin, and species.  Each CEO also agreed to pay for and undergo a third party audit if the BSB received complaints about the company’s products.  The BSB process includes a call center that accepts comments from buyers in the seafood value chain about challenges they have had with seafood suppliers providing them products which they believe are not in accord with industry and legal practices.  NFI member companies found to be violating the commitment to economic integrity will be dismissed from the association, a “public shaming” that companies would seek to avoid.

Finally, NFI’s comments also downplayed mislabeling concerns regarding certain seafood species, including shrimp, indicating that the following “should represent lower concern” to the NOC Committee:  “Species that are mislabeled within the same genus or within the same acceptable market name grouping, e, g, shrimp, cod or grouper.”

Following consideration of the submitted comments, the identified principles will be applied to determine “current at risk species threatened by IUU fishing and seafood fraud.”  Once those species are identified, the NOC Committee will transmit the list “to agencies for appropriate action,” with the list forming the basis for the species that will be “addressed in the first phase of the risk-based traceability program . . . .”

Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s June 8, 2015 comments to the National Ocean Council Committee here:

https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SSA_comments_on_to_National_Ocean_Council_Committee-1.pdf

Read the National Fisheries Institute’s June 8, 2015 comments to the National Ocean Council Committee here:

https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/NFI-June-8-Comments.pdf

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