The shrimp boat Perseverance sits in the St. Simons sound in November.

It’s hard to succeed when you’re playing by the rules and the other guy’s cheating. The sense of unfairness that causes football fans this time of year to rage at their television screens is a real matter when it comes to the seafood industry.

American industry, in general, tends to play by the rules and they’re some fairly intricate rules. However, bad actors overseas and some foreign governments don’t play by the same rules, and that gives those actors and businesses operating under the purview of those governments significant advantages over domestic fishers.

Thursday, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing on the latest on the situation, as detailed in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2019 report on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Nathan Rickard, representing local shrimpers through the Southern Shrimp Alliance, was one of the people invited to speak on a panel to the subcommittee. He said federal anti-dumping laws helped provide stability to an industry that received a massive hit from imported shrimp beginning in the late ‘90s.

“Although the industry permanently had lost many shrimping families, and has struggled to maintain its foothold in some coastal communities, the threat that the industry would entirely disappear has abated,” Rickard said. “The U.S. shrimp industry currently produced about one out of every eight pounds of shrimp that are consumed in our country. The commercial value of shrimp landings in the Gulf and South Atlantic is around $500 million each year, and these landings generate billions of dollars in economic activity throughout the South.”

He said that NOAA needs to get involved, with their unique expertise, with other federal agencies on increased border measures — in the last five years, the market’s changed again with massive imports from farm-grown shrimp in India. He said American imports of such shrimp doubled since 2014 while they dropped in the European Union because the EU has half of all the imported shipments tested for veterinary drug residue and institutes tighter pre-shipment controls.

“On the other hand, the FDA samples 0.1 percent of seafood shipments to test for antibiotics,” Rickard said. “Not 10, not one, but 0.1 percent. As a result, we see large volumes of potentially contaminated Indian shrimp redirected to this market at low and decreasing prices.”

Remarks from U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. and chairman of the subcommittee, indicate some will among the majority to move with expanded regulations. He said the limited data and lack of law enforcement capabilities does nothing but help illegal behavior.

“Reducing IUU fishing is critically important. It’s important for the health of our oceans, to ensure fish stocks are not fished beyond the point of recovery,” Huffman said. “It’s important for human safety and well-being, as IUU fishing is often coupled with other illegal and abhorrent practices, such as human trafficking and slavery. And it’s important for the well-being of our own domestic fishermen, who fish in some of the best-managed fisheries in the world, yet compete in a market with imported fish that may have been caught using forced labor and illegal fishing practices.”

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. and ranking member on the subcommittee, expressed his displeasure at the idea of more or expanded regulations and instead called for a fuller support of domestic farm-raised seafood, with expanding of American fish hatcheries and aquaculture in general.

“When nobody owns a resources, nobody has an incentive to sustain it, and everyone has a perverse incentive to deplete it,” McClintock said. “The United States has taken a leading role in addressing this condition by using several legal and policy tools to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This includes denying illegal fishermen to American markets. Without this, illegal fishermen are operating in an environment where the monetary reward of illegal fishing far outweighs the risks.”

McClintock said domestic production is the best way to combat illegal production elsewhere.

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