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Moving towards greater transparency in the seafood sector

Seafood fraud - the intentional mislabeling of seafood products - is a serious concern
Consumers are increasingly demanding greater traceability for their fish purchases, along the entire value chain from fisher to plate.

On Thursday, the US established new protections aimed at further curbing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices and to strengthen efforts to identify misrepresented seafood before it enters the seafood market.

You can read more about the new Seafood Monitoring Program in this US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) news release. 

Better traceability systems in the seafood industry, such as this new program, are welcomed by FAO, according to John Ryder, Branch Head of Products, Trade and Marketing in FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. “Seafood fraud - the intentional mislabeling of seafood products - is a serious problem in the sector.

There are two main concerns with this type of fraud. One is from the food safety perspective.

The European Union considers fish as allergens. Since some people are allergic to seafood products, it is crucial they have a clear idea of what they are buying to make informed decisions for their health,” according to Ryder.The FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department is currently working together with FAO’s Food Safety Unit on a report to be issued in early 2017 on seafood fraud, focusing on food safety issues.

“The second major concern about seafood fraud is the economic fraud committed. These actions are unfair to the consumers, who are buying less expensive species of fish that have been intentionally mislabeled as higher value seafood species in order to cheat the customer.

These practices undermine consumer confidence in the sector, and we are pleased to see governments working to stop these unethical practices through better monitoring and controls.”

Moreover, seafood fraud damages the legitimate seafood industry that is playing by the rules. This has been an issue closely tied to IUU fishing, and one of the concerns leading up to entry into force this past summer of the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, the first international treaty aimed at eliminating IUU fishing.

Vessels undertaking IUU fishing operations are more likely to commit other violations, including seafood fraud, labour violations and even forced labour.

According to Matthew Camilleri. FAO Fishery Liaison Officer, “IUU fishing has a substantial impact on the global fisheries economy. It is a threat to the livelihoods of fishers and other fisheries sector stakeholders. It is widely recognized that the implementation of FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement, in conjunction with the use of monitoring, control and surveillance tools and Catch Documentation Schemes, is expected to being the most cost-effective way of combating IUU fishing.”

While there is a lot more attention on traceability in the seafood sector today, particularly with a greater call on the part of consumers to ensure better traceability from fisher to plate, John Ryder points out “Traceability itself is not new.

One of  the aspects of the US’ new Seafood Monitoring Program that is important to point out is that it recognizes collection requirements already gathered by the seafood industry in order to comply with food safety and product labelling requirements.

We need to work with the systems already in place, particularly data requirements for food safety and food labelling purposes, and ensure that we build upon these to have a full picture of the entire seafood value chain.”

To learn more about traceability in the seafood value chain, see this FAO film ‘Tracing the Catch’:



For more about the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, see this brief film:



For concerns about the link between IUU fishing and forced labour in the seafood industry, see the web cast of the recent FAO-Vatican event for World Fisheries Day 2016

New legislation and requirements in both the EU and the US, as well as other countries, should help improve seafood traceability

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