Judge rules against NFI, US seafood giants’ challenge to traceability rule

Date: August 29, 2017

Source: Undercurrent News
Author: Tom Seaman

A US judge has ruled against a lawsuit from the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), two trade groups and several large seafood players, which opposes a traceability rule, dubbed the “Seafood Import Monitoring Program”, or SIMP.

The rule, which takes effect January 2018, will require seafood importers of species like tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper and blue crab to provide specific information before their products can enter the United States, including what kind of fish it is, as well as how and where it was caught or farmed.

After hearing both sides of the argument on June 7, US district judge Amit Mehta stated the rule “weathers the storm “of the “various challenges” from NFI, Trident Seafoods, Pacific Seafood Group, Fortune Fish & Gourmet and others, granting the cross motion for summary judgment from the defendants, including Wilbur Ross, the US Department of Commerce (DOC) secretary.

The order, made on Aug. 28, is final, but also appealable, the legal document states. Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for NFI, told Undercurrent News the plaintiffs have 30 days to appeal.

But in the judge’s opinion, the traceability rule was properly made.

“Having given careful consideration to the parties’ arguments and closely reviewed the extensive administrative record”, the court found the rule’s issuance did not run afoul of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and current DOC secretary Ross “validly ratified” the rule, thereby curing any alleged constitutional defect in its promulgation, the Aug. 28 document states.

US Congress granted the department authority to issue regulations to combat seafood fraud, and the department did not encroach upon another agency’s exclusive jurisdiction by so doing, the court ruled.

On June 22, the court issued an order requiring the defendants to either provide the court with a declaration from Ross — or another rule-maker — that affirms and ratifies the seafood traceability rule, or file a status report that indicates a date by which such a statement will be submitted, if at all.

The defendants submitted a declaration from Ross affirming and ratifying the rule on June 30. NFI and the other plaintiffs opposed this, in a document filed July 7.

In a statement, NFI said it is “disappointed” with the court’s decision.

SIMP “remains an expensive burden for the American companies that will bear the costs, for instance $53 million in record-keeping expenses alone”, said John Connelly, NFI president, in a statement.

NFI “has a long history” of supporting the reasonable authorities Congress provided to administrations to combat illegal fishing, said Connelly.

“These additional regulations will not decrease pirate fishing.  The SIMP will though, increase food prices and reduce seafood choices for the average American family,” he said. “NFI will thoroughly review the court’s decision and as always our members will comply with the law.”

NGO Oceana welcomes the judge’s move.

“This ruling is a huge win for US fishermen and consumers who are cheated when illegally caught or mislabeled seafood products make their way into our markets,” said Beth Lowell, senior director for illegal fishing and seafood fraud at Oceana, in a statement. “It’s time for imported seafood to be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish. It’s time to level the playing field for US fishers and reduce the risks facing US consumers. All seafood sold in the US should be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.”

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