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Up to a Third of Wild US Seafood Likely ‘Illegal’

tunaBetween 20 and 32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported into the US is likely illegal, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Policy.

Valued at $1 billion-to-$2 billion annually, this represents between 15-to-26 percent of the total value of wild-caught seafood imported into the US, according to Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA.

Pirate fishers commonly ignore domestic and international fishing laws, regulations and policies by fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, often catching threatened species, and using illegal gear, according to pressure group Oceana. The new study finds that the amount of illegally caught seafood entering the US market is in line with global estimates of pirate fishing, assessed at 13-31 percent of global catch and valued at between $10-23.5 billion each year.

According to NOAA, in 2011 roughly 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States was imported, and about half of this was wild-caught. The majority of these wild-caught imports to the USA are from 10 countries: China, Thailand, Indonesia, Ecuador, Canada, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Mexico, and Chile.

Up to 40 percent of tuna imported to the US from Thailand is illegal or unreported, followed by up to 45 percent of pollock imports from China, and 70 percent of salmon imports, the report says.

There are few instruments inhibiting or interdicting illegal US seafood imports and opaque supply chains, especially Chinese reprocessing, often foster illegal seafood, the report says. Improved chain of custody documents may inhibit entry of illegal seafood products, according to the report.

More than 40 species of marine fish currently found in the Mediterranean Sea could disappear in the next few years, according to a study released in 2011 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Commercial species, including the Bluefin Tuna, are considered threatened or near-threatened with extinction at the regional level, mainly due to overfishing.

There has been an estimated 50 percent decline in the Bluefin’s reproduction potential over the past 40 years due to intensive overfishing, the report says. The lack of compliance with current quotas combined with widespread underreporting of the catch may have undermined conservation efforts for this species in the Mediterranean, according to the report.

Picture credit: Group of giant tuna via Shutterstock.

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