Yesterday, the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA) submitted comments regarding a rule proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) that would expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to cover additional seafood species.
In its comments, SSA expressed support for NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to expand SIMP to cover all species of snapper, explaining that the continued illegal harvest of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico presents a direct threat to the operations of the U.S. commercial fishery for warmwater shrimp. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely reports interdictions of lanchas crewed by Mexican nationals fishing illegally in U.S. waters, using methods that undermine the conservation measures imposed upon commercial shrimpers with respect to pelagic fish (including red snapper), sea turtles, sharks, and other marine life. Nevertheless, despite these unceasing violations, the value of the U.S. imports of snapper from Mexico has increased since NOAA Fisheries implemented SIMP.
SSA additionally expressed support for NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to expand SIMP to cover cuttlefish, squid, and octopus, explaining that SSA’s past efforts to counter Chinese-origin shrimp fraudulently imported into the United States as product of Malaysia demonstrated that the same criminal networks also acted as supply chains for squid tube and octopus products.
At the same time, SSA expressed strong opposition to NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to amend existing regulations to now permit a non-resident (foreign) corporation to obtain an International Fisheries Trade Permit (IFTP) if an application was submitted by the foreign corporation’s resident agent. SSA observed that NOAA Fisheries has not enforced its requirement that the IFTP holder also be the importer of record of seafood covered by SIMP. Instead, foreign shrimp sold into the United States has been largely formally imported by the foreign supplier, contrary to the agency’s requirements. As such, the IFTP holder is typically a purchaser that took possession of the shrimp after importation but would take no responsibility for meeting the legal requirements attached to importing merchandise into the country.
SSA further explained that NOAA Fisheries’ enforcement of the IFTP requirement has been weak in other respects as well, with at least one existing permit having been issued to a foreign corporation with no presence in the United States and multiple permits issued to shell companies or entities using the addresses of residential apartments. Given the poor record of enforcement of NOAA Fisheries’ existing regulations, SSA questioned why the agency was proposing weakening these requirements. SSA also observed that several foreign seafood suppliers – including Nezami Rekha Seafoods Private Limited (India), Ngoc Tri Seafood Joint Stock Company (Vietnam), and Maquiladora y Comercializadora El Camaron LLC (Mexico) – had managed to meet NOAA Fisheries’ requirement by establishing a U.S. presence through which to obtain an IFTP. In its proposal, NOAA Fisheries did not explain why this option would not be similarly available to any other foreign corporation supplying seafood covered by SIMP to the U.S. market.
Finally, SSA requested that NOAA Fisheries describe how the agency would communicate information regarding enforcement actions taken under SIMP to the public and that the agency clarify that labor-abuse concerns will be used as a basis for identifying species that are to be subject to SIMP, in conjunction with other relevant factors. In the proposed rule, NOAA Fisheries declared that “labor-abuse concerns alone will not be used as a basis for identifying species.” Because it is highly unlikely that a seafood species would be identified for the purposes of SIMP’s coverage on the basis of labor-abuse alone, the agency’s statement unnecessarily diminished the importance of confronting slavery in seafood supply chains.
“For far too long, seafood importers have had free reign to do whatever they wanted. Even now, with SIMP, one importer just told the agency that ‘[t]here is no system that you can come up with to keep people honest on snapper,’” said John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “Pervasive non-compliance with our laws should not result in NOAA Fisheries backing down. This country’s commercial fishing industry knows all too well that NOAA Fisheries enforces laws when it wants to. It is well past time to hold importers to the same standard.”
Read SSA’s revised comments on NOAA Fisheries’ proposed rule on SIMP expansion (Apr. 27, 2023) here: https://shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/SSA-Comments-on-Proposed-Rule-4-27-2023.pdf