NOAA Fisheries Seeks Further Review Re: Expanding Seafood Import Monitoring Program

Image: NOAA Fisheries.

NOAA Fisheries has withdrawn a proposed rule to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), saying that instead, the agency will review the program to explore ways to enhance and strengthen its overall impact and effectiveness.

The decision to withdraw the proposed rule stems from extensive feedback received during the public comment period, said Alexa Cole, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of International Affairs, Trade and Commerce. She announced the withdrawal on Nov. 14.

“While we do not have a set timeline, NOAA Fisheries will prioritize this important work and aim to complete this review and implement any needed changes as soon as possible,” NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Lauren Gaches said.

Meanwhile, SIMP continues operating in its current form, with the list of priority species subject to program requirements remaining unchanged. The program calls for catch documentation and traceability for some seafood species at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

Oceana, the international advocacy entity for ocean conservation, noted that SIMP currently covers 13 species and species groups representing less than half of U.S. seafood imports. Oceana called on NOAA to use the program review to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.

“The European Union has for over a decade now required this type of information for seafood imports and it’s beyond time for the U.S. to follow that lead to protect workers and consumers alike,” Oceana said in a statement.

Oceana also cited the current Russian seafood import ban, China’s extensive Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activity and forced labor on fishing vessels and in factories. The organization said that catch documentation and traceability is needed for all seafood, so people know what product is ending up on their plates and how it got there.

NOAA established SIMP in 2016 to require catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

In December 2022, NOAA proposed the rule, to increase the number of species currently subject to SIMP (from about 1,100 to roughly 1,670 individual species), in order to minimize the risk of mislabeling and product substitution that is used to bypass SIMP requirements. Additional program modifications and improvements also had been sought. The comment period closed in March 2023.