Monday, March 16, 2015

16/03/2015: Federal officials plan to track every fish and crustacean shipped to US ports

Described as a modern-day pirate, Arnold Bengis is the face of fishery crime.

He has already served a five-year federal prison sentence for stealing massive amounts of rock lobster from South African waters and importing it to the United States. Now, a federal judge wants the former Long Island resident and two co-conspirators to fork over an additional US$22.5 million in restitution to the South Africans on top of US$7 million already collected in a separate criminal case, The Washington Post reports.

The illegal fishing and fraud Bengis engaged in is part of a global black market valued by experts at up to US$23 billion.

It’s exactly what the Obama administration targeted Sunday in announcing a new plan to stop seafood crime. The plan includes an ambitious system that aims to track every wild fish and crustacean from where it is caught to where it is shipped in the United States.

Before any seafood enters the US market, officials said, it must contain information that federal, state and local officials currently do not ask for: its origin, who caught it, when and with what. That data can be taken by any federal, state and local authority at a port and submitted to a central database for tracking.
Traceability from harvest to ports is “new, and that is the story,” said Russell Smith, deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Government agencies across the board will be required to share and synthesize such information for the first time.

“The plan we are releasing today puts us on course to tackle these complex global challenges, with a new traceability program at its heart,” State Department Undersecretary Cathy Novelli said in a statement. 

“It also gives new urgency to our work towards the strongest possible international tools . . . which will ensure illegal fish cannot reach the global market.”

Traceability will take at least two years to phase in, Smith said, focusing first on threatened stocks such as Atlantic bluefin tuna and sea bass before full implementation by September 2016 traces all at-risk fish. The report directs a task force to determine best practices for better data collection and authority to board suspect ships at sea.

The need to enforce fishing limits was highlighted in a study last year in the journal Marine Policy that estimated that 85 percent of world’s commercial fish stock is being harvested up to or beyond its biological capacity “as our protein hungry planet” leans more heavily than ever on a seafood diet.

The United States is the world’s second-largest market for imported seafood, behind the European Union, and more than 80 percent of what Americans eat arrives from aquatic farms and the coasts off Russia, Chile, Thailand and Vietnam.

But as much as 32 percent of wild-caught seafood that ends up in US fish counters is imported illegally, often by boats operating lights-out at night, hauling in tons of animals that will never be counted.

Read more HERE.

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