NOAA Fisheries announced that it will withdraw its Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) proposal, which would have added additional species to the program that prevents IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fish and fish products, and misrepresented seafood from entering the U.S. market.

The proposal would have maintained the 13 species and species groups on the SIMP list and expanded red snapper and tuna, currently included in SIMP, to their larger species groups, reef fish and highly migratory species.

“What that means is that instead of just monitoring a few named species, the program would be expanded to all red snapper species being imported and all tuna,” says Alexa Cole, director of the Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce at NOAA Fisheries. Cole points out that while SIMP ostensibly monitors 13 species, that is shorthand for more than 1,100 named species within those species’ groups.

Cole notes that feedback received during the public comment period on the proposal led the agency to put the expansion on hold and review the program. “We received over 2,200 comments some wanting a broader program, some not, but overall, the program is not meeting expectations. Rather than expand it as it exists, we want to look at how we can have a more meaningful impact on addressing IUU fishing and seafood fraud.”

According to Cole, during the evaluation the existing program will continue its regular operation, and the list of priority species subject to program requirements will remain unchanged.  

“NOAA Fisheries is committed to ensuring that the Program is a robust tool to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and help maintain the integrity of U.S. seafood imports,” Cole said in the agency’s Nov. 14 announcement.

But NOAA officials also say that during the evaluation of the program, the program will continue its regular operation, and the list of priority species subject to program requirements will remain unchanged.

In a responding press release, the environmental group Oceana points out that the current program covers less than half of the seafood imported into the U.S., allowing other products to enter without key information to show that they came from a legal fishery.

“We call on NOAA to use this review of the program to ensure that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled,” says the press release. “NOAA needs to use this opportunity to ensure the program is a robust tool to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The bottom line is we deserve to know what seafood is on our plate and how it got there, so it's disappointing that NOAA will not be expanding the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to include additional species.”


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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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