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Presidential Task Force Takes Strong Stance Against Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing

Oceana Says Recommendations Would Help to Ensure that U.S. Seafood is Safe, Legally Caught and Honestly Labeled


Today, a task force created by President Obama delivered a strong set of recommendations, including domestic and international measures, to stop seafood fraud and end global illegal fishing. Oceana says the recommendations are a real step forward in fighting illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the U.S. and around the world. The task force reaffirms the president’s commitment to stop these crimes that provide profits to pirate fishermen, rip off consumers and hinder ocean conservation.

The president established the task force in June at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, which directed federal agencies to work together for six months to develop recommendations to combat seafood fraud and illegal fishing.    

Since 2011, Oceana has worked to stop seafood fraud and ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. In October, Oceana released a new study revealing that America’s favorite seafood – shrimp – was misrepresented in 30 percent of the 143 products tested. In a similar study last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 fish samples it tested nationwide were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Seafood fraud not only cheats consumers, but can also impact public health and global ocean conservation by allowing illegally caught fish to be sold in the legal marketplace.

In response to the task force’s recommendations, Oceana released the following statement from senior campaign director Beth Lowell:

“Oceana applauds the president’s task force for taking a strong stance against seafood fraud and illegal fishing. It’s now up to President Obama to fully implement measures that put these recommendations to work. We must break the unintended link between U.S. dollars and pirate fishing and provide long-lasting protections for consumers.

The path laid out by President Obama’s task force has created a historic opportunity to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. The problems are real, but the solution is clear. Boat-to-plate traceability will forever change the way we think about our seafood. Responsible seafood purveyors will no longer have to worry about the products they sell, and consumers can finally trust that they’re getting what they pay for.  

The task force recommendations are only a first step; the president must now ensure that they are fully implemented. Additionally, the task force recommends starting with risk-based traceability to the first U.S. sale, then eventually expanding to full chain traceability for all seafood. The transition from risk-based to comprehensive full chain traceability needs to be swift to increase the safety net for consumers, fishermen and seafood businesses.

Because our seafood currently travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the U.S. market. From fine dining establishments in New York City to small restaurants in Kansas City to grocery stores in Los Angeles, every time Oceana has tested for seafood fraud, we’ve found it.

A recent study of top U.S. seafood imports found that between 20-32 percent of wild-caught seafood crossing our borders comes from ‘pirate’ fishing. This type of activity, which can include fishing in closed areas, catching threatened or endangered species or using destructive, banned gear, can decimate marine ecosystems and costs billions of dollars worldwide every year.

Tracking where, when and how our seafood is caught, and ensuring that this basic information follows the product through each step in the supply chain, will help to eliminate opportunities for seafood fraud and the illegal fishing it can disguise.

From our testing results, fraud and mislabeling can happen anywhere in the supply chain and with many different types of seafood like high-value red snapper to American’s favorite, shrimp. Selling farmed shrimp as wild-caught or tilapia as red snapper not only cheats consumers, but also hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules. We need mandatory and comprehensive full-chain traceability – from boat to plate – to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.

These recommendations are an important and bold first step. Oceana is now calling on President Obama to implement these recommendations swiftly and to their fullest extent.”

Earlier this year, Oceana launched a new interactive map using Google Maps Engine to show the global reach of seafood fraud. The map, which is the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date, compiles more than 100 studies from 29 countries and every continent except Antarctica. While the percentage of seafood fraud found in these studies varies from 1.5 to 100 percent, the average level is 22 percent (weighted based on sample size).

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit


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