Alfa International Seafood et al. v. Wilbur Ross et al.

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Credit: Jonathan Moreau/Flickr

Illegal fishing and seafood fraud contribute to overfishing, destruction of marine habitat, and by-catch of ocean wildlife. They also undercut the livelihoods of law-abiding fishermen. But addressing these illicit practices is challenging. The complexity of global seafood markets provides countless opportunities for illegally caught or mislabeled fish to enter the supply chain and ultimately be sold to unwitting consumers.

To help solve these problems, in 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued the Seafood Traceability Rule, which sets reporting and recordkeeping requirements for companies that import seafood at the highest risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud―such as cod, tuna, swordfish, and red snapper―into the United States. The rule will help prevent illegally caught or fraudulently mislabeled food from entering the country and reaching our grocery stores and restaurants.

Soon after the NMFS issued the rule, members of the commercial seafood industry filed a lawsuit claiming that the rule was unconstitutional and that the agency lacked the authority to regulate seafood fraud. NRDC, in coalition with Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed an amicus brief defending the rule. Emphasizing the environmental, economic, and societal problems associated with illegal fishing and seafood fraud, we explained how the rule was a critical step forward in addressing those problems. Our brief also explained why the NMFS had the authority to consider and address seafood fraud via the Seafood Traceability Rule.

In August 2017, the court rejected the seafood companies’ arguments, upholding the Seafood Traceability Rule and the NMFS’s authority to tackle this issue head-on under federal law. Portions of the court’s analysis closely tracked the arguments we made in our amicus brief. The Seafood Traceability Rule went into effect January 1, 2018.

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