To reduce illegal fishing, the United States is currently considering a federal plan that would establish a program to trace at-risk species from harvest to market. Supporters claim that this will allow regulators to determine which species are suffering the most from illegal activity. Surprisingly, Alaskan crabbers have requested that crab be among the first species studied, citing concerns that illegal fishing in Russia could be financially harming their trade.
Alaskan and Russian crab fisherman catch many of the same varieties, including red crab, blue crab, brown king crab, snow crab and tanner crab. However, American fisherman say that illegal fishing in Russia is responsible for a large chunk of the product that makes its way to American consumers. Some studies suggest that this phenomenon could have cost Alaska as much as $600 million since 2000.
As a result, Alaskan crabbers are hoping that regulators will consider this species as they draw up new standards for tracing seafood. While crab may not be endangered, unlike other species, fisherman say that the economic impact of illegal fishing on this industry is enough reason to include it. Moreover, crabbers claim that they are responsible for most of the data the federal government has collected on the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, giving them a vested stake in the program.
Illegal fishing currently threatens the global stock of a number of species, including bluefin tuna, one potential candidate for the traceability program. In contrast, crab is so plentiful that legal quotas are on the rise for most species. This is just one of several healthy aspects about the American fishing industry: likewise, nearly all groundfish caught in California, Oregon and Washington are now ranked either yellow/good alternative or green/best choice by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.
The task force is being coordinated in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Russell Smith, a deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries at the organization, says he isn’t sure if crab will make the initial traceability list. However, he said that crab’s legacy of illegal trafficking could easily make it one of the first species chosen. All species in the region will eventually be included in the traceability program, but crab fishermen want the species included in the first group.
The traceability program is just one way that the U.S is attempting to cut down on illegal fishing: the task force plan also calls for better cooperation between various enforcement agencies and asks Congress to ratify the United Nations’ Ports State Measures Agreement. This initiative aims to keep coastal nations worldwide from landing illegally-caught seafood. If the United States agreed to the measure, it would be the 12th of 25 countries that are needed to ratify the treaty before it can go into effect.
The NOAA will release a proposed list of the species most at-risk from illegal fishing for public comment in July.