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Business

High seafood demand from US drives up illegal fishing in Philippines

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Demand for seafood from the United States is driving illegal fishing in countries around the world, including the Philippines, according to international marine conservation group Oceana.

In its Fishing for Trouble: Loopholes put illegally caught seafood on Americans’ plates report, Oceana said the US  imported an estimated $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2019.

Oceana said this is a result of around 60 percent of seafood products imported by the US not being covered by its Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), which requires catch documentation and traceability requirements for some imports.

It said the program only applies to 13 species and species groups at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

According to the report,   blue swimming crabs from the Philippines accounted for a quarter of the total IUU wild-caught products imported into the US in 2019, citing data from the International Trade Commission.

“Blue swimming crab from the Philippines is entering the United States disguised as more expensive domestic varieties, and that demand is driving overfishing, which is devastating local economies,”Oceana said.

Seafood fraud is common with the blue swimming crab because crab imported into the United States typically costs less than the domestic catch.

Oceana said SIMP already covers Atlantic blue crab and king crab, but not blue swimming crab.

Oceana cited the rural municipality of Concepcion in the Northern Iloilo Province as one of the main sources of blue swimming crabs in the Philippines as it has one of just two crabs picking and processing plants in northern Iloilo.

“Illegal activity in Concepcion is contributing to overexploitation of blue swimming crab, which threatens the livelihood and food security of Filipinos who depend on the fishery,”the marine protection group said.

“Expanding SIMP to all seafood would protect the future of crab fishers in places like Concepcion by closing the US market to illegally caught crabs, allowing only imports of legally sourced seafood,”it said.

Apart from the blue swimming crab, other species not covered by SIMP include the Caribbean spiny lobster in Belize, the Maya octopus in Mexico and the jumbo squid from Peru.

The marine conservation group urged US President Joe Biden to expand SIMP to include all imported seafood and implement traceability from net to plate.

“When Americans order calamari at a restaurant, they do not want a side of criminal activity to come with it,” Oceana acting vice president for the United States Beth Lowell said.

“The reality is that imported seafood on Americans’ plates can originate from illegal fishing, crime, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses. Seafood that is fraudulently labeled or sourced from illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing has no place in the United States,”she said.

Lowell said President Biden should ensure all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled by expanding traceability of seafood and transparency at sea.

“By collecting the information about the origins of seafood we import, the government can more effectively, screen imports and keep illicit products out of the US market – and support legal fishers worldwide,”Lowell said.

SIMP was created by the US in 2016 to address IUU fishing and seafood fraud among seafood imports, but the program only requires catch documentation and traceability for 13 types of imported seafood, or about 40 percent of US seafood imports.

Oceana said the program only requires traceability from the boat or farm to the US border – not all the way to the consumers’ plate.

OCEANA

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