As some of the world's top seafood consumers, Americans funnel billions of dollars a year to a shady network of exploitative fish launderers.
Illegal and unreported catches represented 20–32% by weight of wild-caught seafood imported to the USA in 2011, as determined from robust estimates, including uncertainty, of illegal and unreported fishing activities in the source countries. These illegal imports are valued at between $1.3 and $2.1 billion, out of a total of $16.5 billion for the 2.3 million tonnes of edible seafood imports, including farmed products. This trade represents between 4% and 16% of the value of the global illegal fish catch and reveals the unintentional role of the USA, one of the largest seafood markets in the world, in funding the profits of illegal fishing. Supply chain case studies are presented for tuna, wild shrimp and Chinese re-processed Russian pollock, salmon and crab imported to the USA. To address this critical issue of unintended financing of illegal fishing, possible remedies from industry practices and government policies may include improved chain of custody and traceability controls and an amendment to the USA Lacey Act.
Researchers scoured nearly 200 papers, reports, and data sets and interviewed experts and officials worldwide for information on a handful of popular seafood varieties. They were attempting to do the impossible: Track the global trade from fisheries to American dinner plates. They extrapolated their findings from those fisheries to assess the nation’s total illicit seafood diet. What they found was a web of tangled supply chains, unscrupulous middlemen, illegal fishing fleets, enslaved and indentured workers, and naive buyers.
“A significant amount of fish is imported to the USA by first passing through one or more intermediary countries for post-harvest processing,” they write in the paper, published online Saturday in the journal Marine Policy. “These additional steps introduce additional challenges to traceability and allow for the mixing of legally- and illegally-sourced fish, where illegal fish may be essentially ‘laundered.’”