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Illegal Fishing Fuels Fraud
Criminal fishing promotes fraud, harms family fishermen and vulnerable species
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By Craig Weatherby
Last week, the advocacy group Oceana released a new report in their series of investigations on seafood fraud.
Their findings show that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing leads to seafood fraud and “threatens fishing economies, seafood consumers and vulnerable marine species on a global scale”.
According to recent estimates, IUU fishing accounts for 20 percent of the global catch and contributes to economic losses of $10-23 billion, while threatening 260 million jobs that depend on marine fisheries around the world.
“Similar to the illegal ivory trade, pirate fishing is decimating the oceans’ most vulnerable and valuable wildlife – we are losing the elephants of the sea to poachers,” said Oceana campaign director and senior scientist Margot Stiles.
Stiles continued, “By fishing illegally, including in national parks, and targeting endangered species with destructive gear, poachers provoke economic losses in the billions of dollars every year, undermining decades of conservation by more responsible fishermen.”
Why trust Vital Choice?
Vital Choice seafood is exactly what we say it is.
Why are we so very confident about the identity of our fish and shellfish?
Key Vital Choice people – founder/president Randy Hartnell, COO Dave Hamburg, shipping master Terry Hartnell, and lead buyer Rich Walsh – are former Alaska and Northwest fishermen who know our sources and supply chain intimately.
Back in 2005, we alerted The New York Times that some vendors in Manhattan’s famed Fulton Fish Market were labeling and selling farmed salmon as costlier wild Alaskan salmon.
Our tip led to a Times investigation that verified our observations (see “Buyer Beware: Vital Choice Discovers 'Wild' Salmon Scam”) and prompted two subsequent investigations with similar outcomes (see “Consumer Watchdog Finds 'Wild' Salmon Scam Remains Routine” and “Salmon Fraud Persists”).
In February, Oceana released a study that found one-third of seafood tested across America was mislabeled.
See “Fishy Bait & Switch Continues”, which is found in the Seafood Labeling & Fraud Issues section of our news archive.
The new Oceana fraud report examines underlying forces that contribute to seafood fraud, including the global overexploitation of marine resources and the “laundering” (mislabeling) of illegally caught fish in U.S. markets.
Most illegal fishermen focus on high-value, expensive species, where the profits gained far outweigh the minor fines and penalties if caught.
The lack of regulation and weak enforcement of fisheries laws in many countries support these activities, which allow many illegal fish to enter countries like the U.S.
These contraband fish are often mixed with legal product or mislabeled as entirely different species.
“Illegal fishing cheats seafood consumers and hurts honest fishermen and businesses that play by the rules,” said Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. “If we want to fight pirate fishing, we need to be able to track our seafood supply from boat to plate so we can keep illegally caught fish out of our markets and off of our dinner plates.”
Congress is considering three bills targeting IUU fishing and seafood fraud: the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE) Act, the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act and the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act.
All three bills are widely supported by U.S. commercial fishers and conservation organizations, and enjoy strong bipartisan support.
The Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE) Act - H.R. 6200
This rule would increase inspections, establish new labeling standards to give consumers more information about the seafood’s origins, and penalize bad actor countries and companies.
As chief sponsor Ed Markey (D Massachusetts) said, “American fishermen face some of the most stringent conservation and quality control standards in the world, and we owe it to them to make sure their product is not being undercut by foreign countries and companies selling shady shrimp, bogus bass, and counterfeit cod.”
The International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act - S. 52 (112th)
This act would expand the authority of NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate, apprehend, and sanction violators for fisheries crimes committed outside U.S. waters.
The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act - S. 1980 (112th)
This law would implement a treaty designed to prevent vessels identified as having been engaged in illegal fishing from entering ports all over the world.
We join Oceana in urging legislators to move these bills forward, to provide the resources and tools to protect responsible fishermen, seafood consumers and the oceans. To find your Congresspersons and ask them to support these bills, visit the websites for the U.S Senate and House of Representatives.  
  • Oceana. Oceana Report Finds that Illegal Fishing Connected to Seafood Fraud Illegal Fishing Undermines Conservation Efforts and Honest Fishermen. May 8, 2013. Accessed at
  • Oceana. Oceana Report Finds that Illegal Fishing Connected to Seafood Fraud Illegal Fishing Undermines Conservation Efforts and Honest Fishermen. May 8, 2013. Accessed at
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