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UN FAO Port State Measures Agreement

The Leaders

First, let’s begin with a big high-five to Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Norway, Chile, and the EU which have ratified or approved this agreement (FAO, 2012).

Now let’s review why this is an important piece of legislation at the United Nations:

Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) Fishing is a serious problem. Estimates of fishing losses to illegal activity range from $10-23.5 billion, representing 11-26 million tons of seafood (Agnew et al. 2009). Some countries suffer greatly (40% of West Africa’s total catches may be illegal) and, in others, illegal fishing may double the documented harvest numbers (Agnew et al. 2009). Furthermore, developing countries often bear the brunt of IUU fishing through lost revenue, decreased food security, and loss of biodiversity (FAO, 2012).

The Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, seeks to make it harder to land illegal product. Countries that ratify the treaty must: 1) designate ports through which foreign fishing vessels may enter; 2) conduct dockside inspections following set standards; 3) block entry to vessels known or believed to have been involved in IUU or those on an IUU vessel list of a Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO); and 4) share information with the governments of vessels with IUU product, when discovered during inspection.

What about the United States?

The U.S. has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty. President Obama sent the Agreement to the Senate in the U.S. for ratification on November 14, 2011 (US Department of State, 2011) and it has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (PFEA; S. 267) seeks to implement the PSMA to help eliminate illegal fishing, and was reintroduced to the Senate on February 11, 2013 (see our PFEA blog for more details).

Next Steps

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) approved the PSMA to ‘Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing’ on November 22, 2009. This treaty will go into effect once 25 countries have ratified the Agreement. It will likely take a few more years to have enough countries ratify the Agreement to move the PSMA forward to implementation.

While the PSMA is still awaiting ratification by 20 more countries, progress in some countries has been made to support implementation of the Agreement. For example, in April 2012, a global series of capacity-development workshops to support implementation of the Agreement was launched in Thailand, to cater to countries from Southeast Asia (FAO, 2012), a toolkit has been developed that outlines how to conduct a needs assessment (PSMA Toolkit), and work is being done to compare current RFMO traceability requirements against those of the PSMA (e.g. Pew, Closing the Gap, 2011).

FishWise will continue to monitor progress of the PSMA and let our retail and NGO partners, along with the public, know how they can help encourage the process.

Pirate Fishing Elimination Act, S. 267

The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (PFEA; S. 267) seeks to implement the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) to help eliminate illegal fishing.

It was introduced on February 11, 2013 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and has 9 co-sponsors: Mark Begich (D-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

How does S.267 help to combat illegal fishing?

  • Passing S. 267 would reinforce U.S. authority to prevent vessels involved in illegal fishing from entering U.S. ports, thereby denying their illegal product from entering the U.S. market.
  • It would also require foreign fishing vessels to submit notice before arrival at American ports (currently, a loophole exists that has created an exemption for some vessels). 


S. 267 goes hand in hand with ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement. To learn more about ratification of PSMA, follow this link to our PSMA blog.

To learn more about S.267, see this excellent fact sheet by our colleagues at Pew Charitable Trusts.

Congratulations to FishWise Partners Safeway and Target!

Fishwise is proud to announce that two of our retailer partners have been placed on the Ethisphere Institutes “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list for 2013. Target and Safeway, Inc are working with FishWise on developing and implementing effective seafood sustainability policies, and both have the goal for all of their fresh and frozen seafood to come from responsible and traceable sources by 2015. The Ethisphere Institute, a think tank, commends and advances best actors in the realms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), sustainability, anti-corruption and business ethics.

Chosen from thousands of companies worldwide, Safeway was selected for the third time for taking direct action regarding sustainability and corporate responsibility, instead of making statements with little follow-through. Safeway’s business practices are based on the four pillars that make up the “Heart of Safeway” model: People, Products, Community, and Planet. The confluence of these four ideals allows them to best serve their customer while promoting sustainability for the future. In addition, Safeway has gone above and beyond the bare minimums for compliance – taking charge in introducing and implementing best practices for the retail seafood industry. Aside from being placed on the Most Ethical Companies list for the third time, Safeway has received many other accolades for their business practices: in 2011 and 2012 they placed 1st on the Greenpeace Seafood Retailer Scorecard, and they have made repeated appearances on the DOW Jones Sustainability Index, Green Rankings (Newsweek), and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Target, on the Ethisphere list for the seventh time, placed highly on the Greenpeace Seafood Retailer Scorecard last year and has also found itself on Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list, DiversityIncs’ “Top 50 Companies for Diversity” list, and Corporate Responsibility’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list.

FishWise could not be more proud to assist companies such as these who are dedicated to paving the way towards a sustainable future – keep up the good work!

Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act

On March 6, 2013, Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives (HR 1012) to combat seafood mislabeling. The Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act, or SAFE Act, seeks to:

  • Require that detailed information accompany seafood through the supply chain to the point of sale, including scientific name, geographic catch area, date of catch, and catch method (this information must be available upon request by customers or government representatives)
  • Improve the FDA list of standardized names for seafood
  • Authorize import refusal of suspected or known violators (of seafood mislabeling)
  • Improve inter-agency cooperation
  • Track perpetrators of seafood fraud

This bill follows recent studies by Oceana and others on seafood fraud in the US retail market. Follow these links for a summary of the bill and a recent seafood source story on the SAFE Act. Co-sponsors include Walter Jones (R-NC), John Tierney (D-MA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Lois Capps (D-CA) and Jo Bonner (R-AL), Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), Theodore Deutch (D-FL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Norton (D-DC), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Charles Rangel (D-NY), and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced companion legislation in the senate, S. 520, on March 11, 2013. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is a co-sponsor.

FishWise will track progress, support and opposition these bills and provide updates as they become available. 


Summary of the Oceana Report on Seafood Mislabeling in the US

oceana-logo1FishWise read the recent Oceana study on nationwide seafood fraud and compiled the highlights of the 70-page report for you here. In the bullet points following each seafood summary, we provide suggestions on how seafood vendors can improve their sourcing and traceability to ensure they are not receiving this mislabeled product.


Oceana staff and supporters purchased 1,247 samples from 674 retail venues (restaurant, grocery, sushi) in metropolitan areas of 21 states. DNA testing was used to resolve the species type of each seafood sample and was then compared to the name on the label/menu for the item. The product was considered to be mislabeled if the name it was marketed under did not match the species name on the FDA Seafood Name list.

The study sampled 46 species of fish, though it focused on salmon, snapper, cod, tuna, sole, halibut and grouper, which made up 80% of the samples. These fish types were sampled more as they are known to be highly mislabeled.


1.Mislabeling rates differed by retail type. Grocery had 18% mislabeling of seafood sampled, restaurants 38% and sushi 74%. It is unknown where these substitutions occurred in the supply chain.

2.Most frequently mislabeled seafood in grocery & seafood markets were: snapper, grouper and cod. 

3.Most frequently mislabeled seafood in restaurants were: snapper, cod, Chilean seabass and grouper.



Snapper was mislabeled in many ways. Some snapper mislabeling appears as a more benign substitution of one species of snapper for another. However, more than 75% of the substitution was of a fish not even from the snapper family (Lutjanidae). The most common substitution in this case were rockfish on the west coast and tilapia in sushi venues.


  • If you sell snapper on the west coast – review the FDA Seafood Name list to ensure you are labeling true snapper and rockfish correctly. With so many species of snapper and rockfish, this can be difficult.
  • If you are receiving snapper fillets (not as easily identified as whole fish), ask your vendor the species of snapper and the catch location & gear type used to harvest the product. This will help to communicate that you want product information to be transparent and that you are checking to ensure you are receiving the product you ordered.



‘White tuna’ was substituted for escolar in a great majority of samples (84%). This poses a health concern as escolar contains a toxin that can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten in quantities greater than a few ounces. ‘White tuna’ is actually not an acceptable market name for any fresh or frozen tuna, and can only be used with canned tuna.

  • If selling fresh and frozen tuna consult the FDA Seafood List for species that can be sold as tuna, bonito, or amberjack.
  • Purchase tuna only from reputable suppliers. Request source information about the tuna to help reassure that substitutions are not happening.
  • To take things a step further, take DNA samples of the tuna you receive and send them to companies that will test the species for you. See company recommendations in the FishWise traceability white paper. Communicate the results to your customers as a competitive advantage.



As this is the second most consumed fish in the U.S., a significant portion of the sampling effort focused on salmon. Salmon mislabeling was higher in restaurants (20%) and sushi venues (18%) than in grocery (5%). ‘Wild salmon’ was mislabeled 27% of the time and was actually farmed salmon. Conversely, sockeye salmon was infrequently mislabeled.

  • Purchase salmon only from reputable suppliers. Request source information about the salmon to help reassure that substitutions are not happening.
  • Market the source information to consumers – such as the source fishery or river. This will help communicate to customers that you have done your due diligence in ensuring your product is accurately labeled.



More than 1 in 4 cod samples were mislabeled. Again, grocery had lower mislabeling rates than restaurants. A common substitution was labeling Pacific cod as Atlantic or vice versa. After this, other whitefish – wild and farmed – were substituted, albeit less often, for cod.


Similar to cod, grouper had a 1 in 4 mislabeling rate. Testing revealed king mackerel, Pangasius, perch, weakfish, bream and other groupers being sold incorrectly as grouper.

Chilean seabass

Eight of 21 samples of Chilean seabass were mislabeled, and opposite of most other mislabeling, rates were higher in grocery than restaurants. Interestingly, this substitution was all about naming. Technically, only the Patagonian toothfish species (Dissostichus eleginoides) can be sold as Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass. The Antarctic species (Dissostichus mawsoni) CANNOT be sold as Chilean seabass and must be sold as toothfish. Every instance of mislabeling in this study was from companies selling the Antarctic species as Chilean seabass, when it should have been sold as toothfish. Additionally, it is important to not label Patagonian toothfish only as ‘seabass’ as this is also mislabeling – it must be labeled as ‘Chilean seabass.’


One in 5 halibut samples were mislabeled. Sushi mislabeling was 100% for halibut, 21% for restaurants, and 4% for grocery. Most substitution was for other types of halibut as only true Pacific and Atlantic halibut can be sold as ‘halibut.’ The fish often called California halibut (Paralichthys californicus) on the west coast must be labeled as ‘flounder’ per the FDA, which led to some of the mislabeling.


Lemon sole was mislabeled the most of all sole and dover sole was only mislabeled once. Fish sold as ‘sole’ were only mislabeled 9% of the time, which makes sense as 32 species can be marketed as ‘sole’ per the FDA Seafood List.


Sushi venues mislabeled yellowtail or hamachi 100% of the time. This is because the species, Seriola quinqueradiata, cannot be sold as yellowtail per the FDA and must instead be labeled ‘amberjack.’

Other fishes to keep an eye on that were mislabeled in this study were orange roughy, ono, butterfish, sanddab, and rockfish. In the small amount of sampling in this study, mahi mahi, swordfish, tilapia, and farmed Atlantic salmon were accurately labeled.

To learn more about ways to improve seafood traceability in your supply chain, download the FishWise white paper on seafood traceability.

Click here to download the original Oceana report.