Fish Industry Says Tighter Monitoring Will Hurt Business

(CN) – Several seafood and restaurant industry groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service over its plan to more closely monitor where market-bound fish are coming from to thwart those who profit from illegal catches.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiff associations claim the new policy would increase the costs incurred by their members and that those costs would further hurt their businesses when they were, of necessity, passed on to consumers.

The fisheries service believes a large amount of the fish and other sea life consumed by Americans is being caught by illegal means or in ways that flout conservation and sustainable fishery management practices.

The rule at the center of the lawsuit establishes a new method of recordkeeping that federal regulators believe will allow them to better monitor where fish bound for America’s tables are coming from.

“The Rule would require seafood importers to trace the origin of the fish they import to either the specific boat that caught the 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,” the complaint says.

Under the rule, each person involved in the fishing chain of distribution- from the fisherman to the broker, to the importer, would need to record data about themselves, which would be ultimately input into an online, government-operated database.

In their Jan. 6 lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim this recordkeeping requirement would be a costly change to the way they do business.

For instance, plaintiff Alfa Seafood, a family-owned seafood importer and distributor located in Miami, Florida, claims they would need to hire three additional employees in order to comply with the Rule, which they say would cost them $195,000 per year, including benefits.

If the cost of production were to go up, the cost of fish and other seafood to the consumer would also rise, Alfa says.

This, it says, would drive demand down, negatively affecting the financial stability of their business.

Restaurants and grocers would also be affected by the price hike, the plaintiffs claim.

They estimate that these increased costs for the industry as a while could easily top one billion a year.

They also contend there are more cost-effective ways to cut down on illegal fishing, including satellite surveillance.

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to declare the agency’s rule invalid and to enjoin regulators from enforcing it.

A representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service declined comment, citing the pending nature of the lawsuit.

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