Illegally Caught Seafood Is Infiltrating U.S. Import Market

We all know about the dangers of overfishing and the depletion of our ocean's resources when it comes to sustainability efforts in the food and beverage sector. But this article from The Boston Globe goes into big detail about how illegally caught fish is changing the import market in the United States and the problems it causes.

A new study that examined illegal and unreported marine harvests brought to the United States from around the globe says it maybe shouldn’t be there at all. Up to 32 percent of imported wild shrimp, crab, salmon, pollock, tuna, and other catch was poached.

Illegal fishing is a major concern of scientists because the world’s oceans can barely sustain legal seafood harvests. Eighty-five percent of the world’s commercial seafood grounds ‘‘are fished up to their biological limits or beyond,’’ the study said.

Earlier studies have shown that illegal and underreported fishing comprises up to 31 percent of the world’s catch, but this study is the first to examine how much of it slips through the better-inspected ports of the United States.

‘‘That was really a surprise to us,’’ said Tony Pitcher, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia who helped author the study, ‘‘Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA,’’ published this month in the journal Marine Policy.

‘‘We thought a well-governed country like the US, with tighter controls, would be better,’’ Pitcher said. Inspectors in the United States, which imports 14 percent of the global total, are not required to ask for documentation that shows a bounty’s origin.

US inspectors are far more concerned with the freshness of seafood and its potential impact on human health. What gets by inspectors is valued in the study at $1.3 billion to $2.1 billion per year, a sum that only encourages more illegal and unreported fishing, Pitcher said.

‘‘It’s quite clear that most consumers don’t have an idea what’s coming into the supply,’’ he said. Americans ate about 2 million tons of seafood in 2011, second only to China. They spent more than $85 billion on seafood products — much of it harvested within the country — in stores, restaurants, or elsewhere. Tuna, pollock, crab, and cod are America’s favorite wild-caught seafoods.

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