Chefs Call on Congress to End Illegal Fishing, Seafood Fraud, and Human Rights Abuses
WASHINGTON —Today, more than 200 chefs and restaurant owners sent a letter to Congress calling for immediate action to address illegal fishing, seafood fraud, and human rights abuses in the seafood industry. Specifically, the chefs are demanding increased traceability of seafood imports and transparency at sea to ensure that all seafood served in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.
The letter, which is signed by top chefs such as Dan Barber, Tom Colicchio, Bun Lai, Rick Moonen, Jacques Pepin, Virginia Willis, and includes 45 chefs from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force on sustainable seafood, outlines the need for Congress to require traceability for all seafood sold in the United States. In the letter, the chefs say “We are a coalition of chefs that collectively serve seafood to millions of customers per year. We take pride in feeding our communities the highest-quality seafood that is not only delicious but also harvested ethically with minimal environmental cost. We are committed to serving dishes that are good for both people and the planet. Therefore, we call on Congress to crack down on illegal fishing and related forced labor abuses.”
“There should be no question from chefs or seafood eaters—seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled, and the government must step up and make it so,” said Jacques Pepin, world-renowned chef and cooking show host, author, instructor, and artist.
“When I serve seafood to my customers, I want them to be confident that it was caught legally and that everyone involved in its catch and production was treated humanely,” said celebrity chef and founder of Crafted Hospitality Tom Colicchio. “Right now, that is all but impossible. It doesn’t have to be this way because the U.S. government can step up efforts to stop illegal fishing and require that seafood workers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
In May of this year, Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, a comprehensive bill to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood fraud, and human rights abuses in the seafood industry while strengthening U.S. leadership on issues that threaten our oceans, consumers, and human rights. This bill, which recently passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources, would provide consumers with more information about the seafood they eat, require fish to be tracked from boat to plate, increase vessel transparency, prevent illegally caught and sourced seafood from entering the United States, and help end forced labor at sea. Additionally, the bill would allow the United States to take stronger action against countries that fail to address IUU fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood sector.
“As a chef and sustainable seafood advocate, I strongly support the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act,” said chef and James Beard award-winning cookbook author Virginia Willis. “This important legislation aims to improve seafood traceability; fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and curb the labor abuses of human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor in the US seafood supply chain. Our seafood choices matter and impact not only the health of the ocean, but also very real human lives.”
In the United States, up to 85% of the fish we consume is imported, with up to 32% of wild-caught imports being products of illegal or unreported fishing. A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2019. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy important habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. For illegal fishers, IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive.
In 2016, the U.S. government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of imported seafood and only requires traceability from the boat to the U.S. border. In 2019, Oceana released the results of a seafood fraud investigation, testing popular seafood not covered by SIMP, and found that 1 in every 5 fish tested nationwide was mislabeled, demonstrating that seafood fraud is still pervasive in the United States. Seafood fraud and IUU fishing ultimately hurt honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules, masks conservation and health risks of certain species, and cheats consumers who fall victim to a bait–and–switch.
In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters say they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor. Eighty-three percent of voters agree that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability.
To join the call for seafood traceability and transparency at sea, chefs or restaurant owners should sign on here.
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