PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Federal authorities say they want feedback from the public about proposed rules they hope would take a bite out of illegal fishing imports that jeopardize the country's multibillion dollar commercial fishing industry.
Proposed new rules about seafood traceability would protect the public from fraud and help keep unsustainable fish products from reaching American shores, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The proposed rules come as U.S. seafood importers face increased scrutiny about their supply chains after a series of media and human rights reports found Southeast Asian fishermen and shrimp processers were abused and enslaved. An expose by The Associated Press last year found Thai companies ship seafood to the U.S. that was caught and processed by trapped and enslaved workers.
The government's proposed new system would apply to key food fish like cod, swordfish, shrimp and tuna that NOAA has recognized as vulnerable to illegal fishing, NOAA administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan said.
"Traceability is a key tool for combating illicit activities that threaten valuable natural resources, increase global food security risk and disadvantage law-abiding fishermen and seafood producers," Sullivan said.
The changes would create a new system to collect data about the catch, trip ashore, and chain of custody of fish and fish products imported into the U.S., NOAA officials said. It would establish record-keeping about importation of fish in order to prohibit any sale of fish taken in violation of foreign laws, the proposal states.
The new rules would also require importers to file an international trade permit. The information collected under the new standards would help authorities verify that imported fish was lawfully acquired, NOAA said.
A national group called the National Ocean Council Committee to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud proposed the rules this month. The proposal will be the subject of a public information presentation in Boston on March 7 at the Seafood Expo North America. NOAA is also accepting public comments on the proposal until April 5.
Illegal fishing causes more than $10 billion in global losses every year, the conservationist group Oceana reported in a 2013 study.
AP National Writer Martha Mendoza in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.