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New Research Estimates More Than $1.3 Billion in Illegally Caught Fish Entering US Annually

Study underscores need for stronger US policies to address global crisis

Washington, DC – More than 20% of wild caught seafood imported into the US–worth at least $1.3 billion–is likely illegal, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Policy.

This new estimate underscores the role of the US market in fueling the global trade of illegal fish, estimated at $23 billion, and the need for the US government to take proactive efforts to combat it.

“This study reinforces what the fishing industry, governments and conservationists have been saying for a long time: illegal fishing is a major global problem and threatens the long-term health of our oceans and the livelihoods they support,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vice President for Marine Conservation Michele Kuruc. “While the very nature of illegal fishing makes it difficult to quantify, this research brings new attention to the immense scope and scale of the problem.”

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU) is present in all fisheries from the high seas to coastal zones. It damages ecosystems, undermines livelihoods, and is often associated with other serious problems such as drug trafficking, human slavery, organized crime and maritime security. The global seafood supply chain is complex and often poorly regulated, enabling the origin and movements of illegal products to be concealed, making it more difficult for the fishing industry and consumers to ensure products are legally caught.

“The US needs to continue to build momentum on recent efforts to end illegal fishing, including last week’s ratification of the Port Statement Measures Agreement, another major step forward in the fight to end illegal fishing,” added Kuruc. “As one of the planet’s largest consumers of seafood, the US has an enormous impact on the global seafood trade and the obligation to drive international progress to stop illegally caught fish from entering it.”

While governments, NGOs, and the fishing industry have made some progress combatting illegal fishing through government-led and voluntary programs including Marine Stewardship Council certification, the problem is far from solved. As a next step, WWF urges the federal government to develop procedures requiring all seafood sold in the United States to be fully traceable to verifiably legal sources, making it more difficult for illegally caught fish to enter supply chains undetected.

“By establishing standards to verify all fish imported into the US were legally caught, we can begin to reduce the profits and incentives driving this crisis,” added Kuruc. “By expanding traceability requirements across all fisheries, the US can catalyze international efforts to prevent illegal fish from mixing with legal product throughout global supply chains.”

The article “Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA” appears online in the journal Marine Policy and was supported in part by a grant from WWF.