As reported previously on this blog, concerns about illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) seafood fraud, led to a proposed rule to establish a traceability program for certain seafood species. The final rule establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program was published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Department of Commerce, in the December 9, 2016 Federal Register.
The Program established permitting, data reporting and recordkeeping requirements for the importation of certain priority fish and fish products—including abalone, several types of cod and tuna, red snapper, shrimp and swordfish—that were identified as being especially vulnerable to seafood fraud. The rule requires seafood importers to trace the origin of the fish they import to either the specific boat that caught the full fish or a “single collection point,” to the day the fish was caught, and to the sector of the specific ocean where the fish was caught.
On January 6, 2017, the National Fisheries Institute, Alfa International Seafood, Inc. and others filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging what they called a “Midnight Final Rule.” In the suit, the plaintiffs questioned whether the Department of Commerce cut corners by, among other things, refusing to disclose for public comment the data that it relied on to identify the seafood species subject to the rule and by allowing “a low-level bureaucrat to issue a binding final rule absent a valid delegation of authority from the Secretary.”
In a June 22, 2017 ruling, Judge Amit P. Mehta did not overturn the final rule establishing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. Rather, Judge Mehta wrote: “The proper course at this juncture—just months before the rule goes into effect—is to defer ruling on Plaintiffs’ broader challenge to the agency’s authority to engage in rule-making and, instead, afford the federal defendants an opportunity to submit a signed statement from a principal officer within the Department of Commerce that ratifies the rule.”
The compliance date for most priority species is January 1, 2018. The plaintiffs stated in the complaint that the traceability requirements will “force seafood processors to adopt costly changes to the way in which seafood is processed, thereby significantly increasing the cost of seafood to the consumer.”