Top US chefs call for end to illegal fishing and ‘seafood fraud’

In the US, over 200 chefs and restaurant owners have sent a letter to Congress calling for immediate action to address illegal fishing, seafood fraud, and human rights abuses in the seafood industry. Specifically, the chefs are demanding increased traceability of seafood imports and transparency at sea to ensure that all seafood served in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled. 

The letter (, which is signed by top chefs such as Dan Barber, Tom Colicchio, Bun Lai, Rick Moonen, Jacques Pepin, Virginia Willis, and includes 45 chefs from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force on sustainable seafood, outlines the need for Congress to require traceability for all seafood sold in the United States.

In the letter, they say: “We are a coalition of chefs that collectively serve seafood to millions of customers per year. We take pride in feeding our communities the highest-quality seafood that is not only delicious but also harvested ethically with minimal environmental cost. We are committed to serving dishes that are good for both people and the planet. Therefore, we call on Congress to crack down on illegal fishing and related forced labour abuses.”

A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2019. 

IUU fishing can include fishing without authorisation, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy important habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. For illegal fishers, IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive. 

Chef Jacques Pepin says: “There should be no question from chefs or seafood eaters – seafood sold in the US should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled, and the government must step up and make it so.”

“When I serve seafood to my customers, I want them to be confident that it was caught legally and that everyone involved in its catch and production was treated humanely,” says celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. “Right now, that is all but impossible. It doesn’t have to be this way because the US government can step up efforts to stop illegal fishing and require that seafood workers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”  

In May of this year, Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Garret Graves (R-La.) introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labour Prevention Act, a comprehensive bill to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood fraud, and human rights abuses in the seafood industry while strengthening US leadership on issues that threaten the oceans, consumers, and human rights. This bill, which recently passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources, would provide consumers with more information about the seafood they eat, require fish to be tracked from boat to plate, increase vessel transparency, prevent illegally caught and sourced seafood from entering the US, and help end forced labour at sea. Additionally, the bill would allow the United States to take stronger action against countries that fail to address IUU fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood sector.  

“As a chef and sustainable seafood advocate, I strongly support the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labour Prevention Act,” says chef Virginia Willis. “This important legislation aims to improve seafood traceability; fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and curb the labour abuses of human trafficking, forced labour, and child labour in the US seafood supply chain.  Our seafood choices matter and impact not only the health of the ocean, but also very real human lives.”

In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89 per cent of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as US caught seafood, with 81 per cent of voters saying they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the US that was caught using human trafficking and slave labour.

If you are an American chef or restaurant owner, you can sign the letter here.

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