Canadian seafood industry braces for new U.S. traceability rules
Goal of new rules is to stop illegal, unregulated and unreported catches from entering the U.S.
Canadian seafood producers will need to "raise their game" to satisfy new American seafood traceability rules, according to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
The Seafood Import Monitoring Program was one of the final acts of the Obama administration.
It will require much more detailed information about catches before they are allowed into the United States.
"We need to raise our game to ensure that the Americans receive the evidence they require that our fisheries are compliant, as they are," LeBlanc said.
Big food fight
The goal is stop illegal, unregulated and unreported catches from entering the U.S.
The measures go into effect next January.
The final rules were published Dec. 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a month later triggered a lawsuit by six major U.S. seafood companies and two West Coast processor associations that claimed they are regulatory overreach.
Canada on board
LeBlanc said Canada has been working with the U.S. government for months to implement the regime.
"We're confident we can work with the Canadian industry to ensure that there is not a disruption in what is a critical export for Canada. Our initial position is to work with the Americans and ensure that very laudable effort succeeds, but in a way that doesn't harm the Canadian industry," LeBlanc said.
The rules are a response to seafood fraud — from mislabelling to the use of slaves on Asian fishing vessels and those catches slipping into the supply chain of major American stores and supermarkets.
The new rules will require a demonstrated chain of custody from boat to border for 13 priority species.
Atlantic Canadian mainstays like lobster, snow crab, scallops and almost all groundfish are not on the list, but Atlantic cod and sea cucumber are named.
So, too, are the open ocean, large pelagic species caught by Nova Scotia's longline fleet: swordfish, bluefin, yellowfin, big eye and albacore tuna, mahi mahi and sharks.
"It adds a level of complexity to shipping fish to the U.S. that's for sure," said Troy Atkinson, president of the Nova Scotia Swordfishermen's Association.
Who and how much?
In 2016, 43 swordfish licence holders caught and exported seven of the 13 listed species to the U.S.
The majority of the exports were from its annual quota of 1,400 metric tonnes of swordfish caught along the edge of the Gulf Stream as it passes Nova Scotia.
Atkinson said the challenge will be developing an electronic records system in less than a year.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Tunas brought in an electronic document system for tracing bluefin tuna last year along with its paper records.
"That system was three years in development," said Atkinson. "There were some hiccups last year where the system crashed from time to time, and you had fish on the way to the airport and you had no way other than send the old paper copy with it. You couldn't get the electronic stuff done."
In its January lawsuit to stop the program, the seafood companies argued it would impose enormous and unjustified costs on the public and the U.S. seafood industry.
They claimed it could cost $100 million per year to implement.
The National Fisheries Institute, the U.S. industry association that is also part of the suit, did not respond to a CBC request for comment.