When you’re looking to order a plate of fresh-caught Salmon at a fancy restaurant, you don’t want to grill your waiter about where it came from, who caught it, and how much mercury is in it. You assume that, because it has a decent price tag, it’s a fine piece of fish. However, seafood fraud and mislabeling mean that you can’t always put your trust in a label or someone’s word that the fish is what they say it is. New regulations, however, are hoping to change that.
First announced in January 2017, SIMP–the Seafood Import Monitoring Program–seeks to prevent illegally caught or counterfeit product from entering the domestic market by requiring companies to track their product from harvest until arrival at American ports. SIMP is a mandatory compliance program, meaning all NOAA Fisheries must meet SIMP compliance by January 2018.
Oceana, a non-profit dedicated to ocean advocacy, explains that seafood fraud is a huge issue in the fishing industry. “One in five of more than 25,000 seafood samples tested…have been found to be mislabeled,” they explain. Mislabeling was most often cases of cheaper fish labeled as a more expensive type, but it also poses serious health risks to consumers: mislabeled samples were fish that pose “species-specific health risks to consumers, including toxins and environmental chemicals.” In order for consumers to make safe food choices, there must be accurate labels that correctly identify what the fish is and where it was caught. Seafood Fraud also allows for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing to continue in the marketplace.
Illegal seafood threatens the valuable natural resources that are critical to global food security. It also puts law-abiding fishers and seafood producers at a natural disadvantage if the competition is bringing in illegal product. While the system is formally in place, at this point violators are only being warned about the abuses. With the new SIMP compliance regulations, however, that will change. SIMP requires extensive data tracking and reporting on the harvest of fish & fish products. Companies are required to retain & report “additional supply chain data by the importer of record and extends an existing NMFS requirement to obtain an annually renewable International Fisheries Trade Permit (IFTP) to the fish and fish products regulated under this rule”, to improve traceability of samples from harvest to store shelves. By requiring reports to the US Government at import and “requiring retention of documentation so that the information reported (e.g., regarding species and harvest location) can be verified”, seafood fraud will decrease significantly.
These regulations pose a new challenge for the seafood industry–particularly those who primarily import product from overseas. Adjusting to SIMP may feel overwhelming. With a compliance software solution such as Qualtrax, transitioning into this new realm of compliance will be nearly pain free. For example: SIMP regulations are to maintain an electronic system to track your product. Qualtrax’s workflows allow for ease of traceability, and Qualtrax systems can maintain and archive chain of custody records. These items can be easily accessed within the Qualtrax system, so audits or reporting can be smooth and simple.
The last thing that any seafood importer wants to worry about is making a mistake that negatively impacts human well-being. Helping to automate the shipping process into a workflow is an important best practice that would greatly aid our seafood customers moving forward.