Ending illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing ("IUU") remains one of the most urgent priorities for achieving healthy ocean ecosystems and protecting the welfare of hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and food security.
Among the most effective ways to fight IUU fishing is preventing illegal fish products from reaching markets. This is why governments, businesses, and civil society stakeholders have increasingly focused on a combination of fisheries monitoring, product traceability, and regulatory trade controls to ensure that all seafood reaching consumers comes from legal and responsible sources.
In a recent case study, WWF worked with Orca Bay Foods, LLC—a seafood importer/processor company based in Seattle, WA—to demonstrate that the application of some basic tools can substantially reduce the risk of "IUU infection" even in a relatively complex and multi-national supply chain.
The focus of the study was king crab imported from Russia into the United States, chosen in part for the past association of the underlying fisheries with significant IUU practices.
The project successfully demonstrated that the right combination of actions and actors can significantly reduce the flow of IUU products through international commerce. Although no system for eliminating IUU from supply chains can be perfect, the one tested in this case shows a robust result. If maintained, the traceability system tested by Orca Bay can provide significant assurances to supply chain partners, regulators, and consumers. If expanded to other companies sourcing from the same fishery, it could be a leading example across an entire set of products entering the US market.
Another important takeaway is the need for a combination of private sector and government action. For its part, Orca Bay demonstrated what can be accomplished by a motivated company in the middle of a complex seafood supply chain. Orca Bay's willingness and ability to test a new set of internal business practices and to engage its supply chain partners was the engine that drove this effort.
The regulatory and administrative reforms undertaken by the Russian government prior to the inception of this pilot were a necessary precondition of success.
While the project was ambitious, it was also limited in its scope. To move this work forward, the system should be replicated by other actors in the sub-sector. It also needs to be part of a formal fishery improvement project aimed at meeting the Marine Stewardship Council standard. This would include continued improvements in Russian regulatory practices, especially to increase the transparency of Russian fisheries licensing and monitoring.
Taking these steps would transform a successful "proof of concept" pilot project into a leading and durable example of how a fishery once plagued by IUU can become a "best practice" example in mitigating the problem.