Around the world, billions of people depend on our ocean for their food, health, economic security and so much more. In the United States alone, Americans eat about 4.6 billion pounds of seafood each year and in 2014, the seafood industry contributed more than $200 billion to the American economy and supported more than 1.8 million jobs. Additionally, with close to 40 percent of our population living along the coast, our marine resources are critical to the health and well-being of communities across the country.
As we increasingly experience the impacts of climate change such as warming ocean temperatures, the marine resources that communities depend on are at risk. For example, in the first of several assessments to analyze the impacts of climate change on fish and fishing-dependent communities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that warming oceans are threatening the majority of fish species in the Northeast including lobster, scallops and others that are regularly seen in restaurants and supermarkets across the country. And it is not just happening here, every year global fish stocks are under increasing pressure from climate shifts that are compounded by overfishing much of which is illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU). Some estimates place the total amount IUU fishing as equivalent to 30% of the global catch. This kind of activity places a dire stress on ocean sustainability, threatens global food security, and distorts legal markets while harming honest fishermen.
Knowing that our food sources and marine ecosystems are at risk, it is more important than ever to tackle the global challenges facing our ocean by fighting this scourge and ensuring that we’re eating safe and sustainably caught fish across the country.
Today, building on United States’ global leadership in sustainable seafood, the Obama Administration is taking a big step in the global fight against illegal fishing by announcing the country's first seafood traceability program. Focusing on species most at risk for black-market fishing and fraud, the program will track these fish from catch or harvest to when they are imported or sold in the U.S. This “bait to gate” approach is a great example of coordinated action across Federal jurisdictions to address a problem of national and global concern.
By circumventing taxes and tariffs, illegal fishing undermines those operators who are acting responsibly and accurately reporting their catch. Today’s final rule, which will appear in the federal register in the coming days, follows a recommendation from the President’s Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud to collect data and improve information about seafood entering the US. As a result, for the first time, we will have real information about where our fish come from in order to keep illegally caught seafood out of U.S. markets.
In addition to helping promote sustainable fisheries around the world, this program will help ensure food safety, and benefit responsible fishing communities and businesses that won’t have to worry about competing with illegal products.
We have a shared responsibility to protect our ocean and ensure that we partner in the global fight to tackle the most pressing challenges facing marine resources. Establishing the Nation’s first ever seafood traceability program is a huge step towards meeting this charge.