The US Industry sues their government over new IUU rule / by Francisco Blaha

A few weeks ago I wrote about the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program and then I went a bit deeper in its details. I also used it as a platform to support the concept of Pacific Wide ‘multilateral” CDS that could communicate with the US system data portal (ITDS) and hopefully one day with the EU one. But look like the US one started with troubles at home, as it has been legally challenged domestically by the US industry before it even started.

 I may come form south of the border, but I have traceability señor....

I may come form south of the border, but I have traceability señor....

The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce over this rule, arguing that could cost the commercial fishing industry as much as USD 1 billion annually. In addition to NFI, plaintiffs include Trident Seafood Corp., Dulcich Inc. (Pacific Seafood Group), Handy Seafood, Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants, Alfa International Seafood, Pacific Seafood Processors Association and West Coast Processors Association. They are asking for a delay and review of the law.

I only can guide myself from what I read in the press (here and here), but some of the arguments seems a bit flimsy, and/or show how insular the USA (industry, gvt, people) seems to be sometimes on what is happen outside their territory, so I will quote some of the things I read, and then give my personal opinion in Italics.

Part of the argument is that the changes required for tracking and processing seafood exported into the U.S. “would reduce exports into the U.S. and would dramatically increase the cost of catching, processing and importing seafood,” according to the complaint. 
Yes, if the fish cannot be proven legal, then the whole idea is that it would not be able to be imported. In fact a drop in imports would prove that the system is working (unlike the EU system where the expected drop - assuming that 10-20% of the fish catches were IUU – never eventuated). As in regards increasing dramatically the cost of catching, processing and importing… in term of catching and processing, I don’t see how… I know plenty of legal operations worldwide that maintain traceability (as they should!) so not much news there. As per the cost of importation, well two fold there: 1) Importers would have to keep systems in place (as anywhere else in the world) and 2) yes supply and demand, if there is less fish available price will go up… isn’t that what free market, neoliberalism and all those policies the USA are about?

"The regulation would also affect the way most fish are processed in the U.S., because the requirements apply to all domestically caught or farmed seafood that are shipped outside the U.S. for processing, and then re-imported back into the U.S." 
Well, then you will to have a good traceability systems on your catches and make sure that the countries you sent your fish for processing also have them, in particular, to control laundering (if you need help with that my friend Gilles and I, just finish writing a book for FAO that can help once is approved for publishing… let us know). Furthermore, if the country that you are sending cannot handle that, maybe another can do it (isn’t that the beauty of competition?) or perhaps, you should consider processing domestically, as so many other countries do.

“Fishermen, many of whom are subsistence workers operating in third-world nations, would have to keep track of each fish harvested, as would the brokers who purchase the seafood from the fisherman, and processors who handle catches from hundreds of fishermen would have to be able to trace each piece of fish to a specific vessel and specific fishing events or to a single collection point,” the complaint said.
Yes… and many do that! In fact, that is the basis of my job!  And is actually quite condescending that the plantifs use them as an excuse for something that they are not able to do domestically, looks like. The Solomon Islands (a least develop country) can do that for every can or bag of tuna loins it process and exports… maybe they should come over and have a look.

The rule “would require seafood importers to trace the origin of the fish they import to either the specific boat that caught the full fish or a “single collection point”, to the day the fish was caught and to the sector of the specific ocean where the fish was caught”, it is claimed in the complaint.
That is a very pessimistic way to see it… here is another: “would require seafood importers to source fish from processors that can provide the required information to prove that their catches are legal and traceable, giving this way the American consumer the required assurances they deserve."

It would require that each link in the supply chain prior to entry into the US -- “from the fisherman or broker in Peru, Iceland, Indonesia, Canada, and the United States, through the processor in Ecuador, Thailand, Vietnam, or Norway,” -- collects and maintains data and pass them on to the importer.
Yes!! And that is the intention! I can tell you that many of the countries you name there have VERY good traceability systems and those who are not there yet, have now a really good incentive to do so!

Plaintiff Alfa, a family-owned seafood importer and distributor based in Miami, Florida, claims the rule would make its operation far more difficult and costly. They say that:

The rule “would require processors in Ecuador and Peru, where most of Alfa’s seafood originates, to change the way in which fishermen or brokers document their catches and the way in which processors actually process these catches, so that fish imported into the United States can be traced to a particular fishing event or to a single collection point”. This will “add hundreds of thousands of dollars” to Alfa's cost of importing, “assuming that the processors abroad are willing to modify the way in which they process fish”.
Well... lets start that it is totally condescending to the fishers and fisheries administration of those two countries (many of the I count among my friends). Having worked in both places... that is actually what they already do (and with some degree of credibility) for the fish going to the EU. So I don't think that is true that the processors are not willing to modify their procedures, in fact that is what processors do when new market access requirements come on board. They did it for your HACCP rule in 1998, they did it for the EU Hygiene package system in 2006, for the EU IUU in 2010… so this one just built among that.

Anyway, we will have to wait and see… but as my master fisherman told me when I started on boats: to make good cake, you have to break some eggs, does not work any other way. One cannot expect to have assurances of the legality of fish and not assume that it would not come at some effort and cost, at least initially.

While I could argue the potential efficiency and design flaws of the US CDS system, but as we agreed at FAO in 2015, a “Catch documentation scheme – is a system that tracks and traces fish from the point of capture through unloading and throughout the supply chain. A CDS records and certifies information that identifies the origin of fish caught and ensures they were harvested in a manner consistent with relevant national, regional and international conservation and management measures. The objective of the CDS is to combat IUU fishing by limiting access of IUU fish and fishery products to markets.”

Ergo, a CDS only works when the flag, port and market States cooperate to apply the scheme, otherwise is just papers... and we have enough of them already.