Skip to main content

Delivering on seafood traceability under the new U.S. import monitoring program


The United States is the world’s largest fish importer. Recent reports, however, indicate that 25–30% of wild-caught seafood imported into the US is illegally caught, heightening concerns over the country’s significant role in driving Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. In January 2017, NOAA enacted the Seafood Import Monitoring Program in an effort to combat IUU fishing through mandating improved seafood traceability requirements. This program requires reporting of fisheries data from harvest to arrival at the US border. Given the role of the US as a major global importer of seafood, this regulation could be a transformative action on fisheries worldwide if implementation includes two key components—(1) applying best available and most appropriate technologies and (2) building monitoring and enforcement capacity among trading nations. This paper provides insightful commentary on the potential for this US policy to lead by example and improve an essential natural resource that over a billion people worldwide depend on for nutrition and livelihoods.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Barber, P.H., M.C.A. Ablan-Lagman, Ambariyanto, R.G.S. Berlinck, D. Cahyani, E.D. Crandall, R. Ravago-Gotanco, M.A. Juinio-Menez, et al. 2014. Advancing biodiversity research in developing countries: The need for changing paradigms. Bulletin of Marine Science 90: 187–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bennett, N.J., L. Teh, Y. Ota, P. Christie, A. Ayers, J.C. Day, P. Franks, D. Gill, et al. 2017. An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation. Marine Policy 81: 411–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowman, M. 2013. A tale of two CITES: Divergent perspectives upon the effectiveness of the wildlife trade convention. Review of European Community & International Environmental Law 22: 228–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradsher, K. 2005. Disneyland in China offers a soup and lands in a stew. The New York Times, New York, NY, 17 June.

  • Challender, D.W.S., and D.C. MacMillan. 2014. Poaching is more than an enforcement problem. Conservation Letters 7: 484–494.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Challender, D.W.S., S.R. Harrop, and D.C. MacMillan. 2015. Towards informed and multi-faceted wildlife trade interventions. Global Ecology and Conservation 3: 129–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeSombre, E.R., and J.S. Barkin. 2011. Fish in water. Cmbridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eyes on the Seas. 2015. Project Brief, The Pew Charitable Trusts.

  • Fisheries of the United States. 2015. ed. A. Lowther, MM. Liddel. Silver Spring, MD: NOAA.

  • Huxley-Jones, E., J.L.A. Shaw, C. Fletcher, J. Parnell, and P.C. Watts. 2012. Use of DNA barcoding to reveal species composition of convenience seafood. Conservation Biology 26: 367–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Global Dietary Database. 2017. Global Nutrition and Policy Consortium. Retrieved 1 June 2017, from

  • Hallstein, E., and S.B. Villas-Boas. 2013. Can household consumers save the wild fish? Lessons from a sustainable seafood advisory. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 66: 52–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hilborn, R., P. Arcese, M. Borner, J. Hando, G. Hopcraft, M. Loibooki, S. Mduma, and A.R. Sinclair. 2006. Effective Enforcement in a Conservation Area. Science 314: 1266.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houssa, R., and M. Verpoorten. 2015. The unintended consequences of an export ban: Evidence from Benin’s shrimp sector. World Development 67: 138–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jablonicky, C., D. McCauley, D. Kroodsma, K. Boerder, and D. Dunn. 2016. Satellite tracking to monitor area-based management tools and identify governance gaps in fisheries beyond national jurisdiction. Policy Brief, Nereus Program. P 4.

  • Jacquet, J., J. Hocevar, S. Lai, P. Majluf, N. Pelletier, T. Pitcher, E. Sala, R. Sumaila, and D. Pauly. 2009. Conserving wild fish in a sea of market-based efforts. Oryx 44: 45–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, R.P., J.A. Port, K.M. Yamahara, and L.B. Crowder. 2014. Using environmental DNA to census marine fishes in a large mesocosm. PLoS ONE 9: e86175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kroodsma, D.A., N.A. Miller, and A. Roan. 2017. The global view of transshipments: Preliminary findings. Global Fish Watch, SkyTruth.

  • Lubchenco, J., E.B. Cerny-Chipman, J.N. Reimer, and S.A. Levin. 2016. The right incentives enable ocean sustainability successes and provide hope for the future. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113: 14507–14514.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801 MSA § 2.

  • Maralit, B.A., R.D. Aguila, M.F.H. Ventolero, S.K.L. Perez, D.A. Willette, and M.D. Santos. 2013. Detection of mislabeled commercial fishery by-products in the Philippines using DNA barcodes and its implications to food traceability and safety. Food Control 33: 119–125.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCauley, D.J., P. Wood, B. Sullivan, B. Bergman, C. Jablonicky, A. Roan, M. Hirshfield, K. Boerder, and B. Worm. 2016. Ending hide and seek at sea. Science 351: 1148–1150.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mendoza, M., R. McDowell, M. Mason, and E. Htusan. 2016. Fishermen slaves: Human trafficking and the seafood we eat. Albuquerque: Associated Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mora, C., R.A. Myers, M. Coll, S. Libralato, T.J. Pitcher, R.U. Sumaila, D. Zeller, R. Watson, et al. 2009. Management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries. PLoS Biology 7: e1000131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, G.R., D. Staples, and S. Funge-Smith. 2007. Fishing capacity management and IUU fishing in Asia. FAO RAP Publication 2007/16.

  • Newton, K., I.M. Cote, G.M. Pilling, S. Jennings, and N.K. Dulvy. 2007. Current and future sustainability of island coral reef fisheries. Current Biology 17: 655–658.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • NOAA 2017. Fishwatch. US Seafood facts Retrieved 1 June 2017, from

  • Parreno-Marchante, A., A. Alvarez-Melcon, M. Trebar, and P. Filippin. 2014. Advanced traceability system in aquaculture supply chain. Journal of Food Engineering 122: 99–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phelps, J., E. Webb, D. Bickford, V. Nijman, and N.S. Sodhi. 2010. Boosting CITES. Science 330: 1752–1753.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pramod, G., K. Nakuma, T.J. Pitcher, and L. Delagran. 2014. Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA. Marine Policy 48: 102–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosen, G.E., and K.F. Smith. 2010. Summarising the evidence on the international trade in illegal wildlife. EcoHealth 7: 24–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sigsgaard, E.E., I.B. Nielsen, S.S. Bach, E.D. Lorenzen, D.P. Robinson, S.W. Knudsen, M.W. Pedersen, M.A. Jaidah, et al. 2016. Population characteristics of a large whale shark aggregation inferred from seawater environmental DNA. Nature Ecology and Evolution. 1: 1–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thomsen, P., J.O.S. Kielgast, L.L. Iversen, C. Wiuf, M. Rasmussen, M.T.P. Gilbert, L. Orlando, and E. Willerslev. 2012. Monitoring endangered freshwater biodiversity using environmental DNA. Molecular Ecology 21: 2565–2573. USDA Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations 7 CFR Part 60.

  • Vandergrift, J. 2013. Note: Elephant poaching: CITES failure to combat the growth in Chinese demand for ivory. Virginia Environmental Law Journal 31: 102–135.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walsh, M.L., G.R. Tromble, W.S. Patrick, and W.E. Morrison. 2015. Comparative analysis of U.S. Federal fishery management to the FAO ecolabelling guidelines: A self-assessment. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-OSF-1, 152 pp.

  • Ward, T.J. 2008. Barriers to biodiversity conservation in marine fisheries certification. Fish and Fisheries 9: 167–177.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Warner, K., W. Timme, B. Lowell, and M. Hirshfield. 2013. Oceana study reveals seafood fraud nationwide. Oceana 11: 1–69.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber, D.S., T. Mandler, M. Dyck, P.J. Van Coeverden De Groot, D.S. Lee, and D.A. Clark. 2015. Unexpected and undesired conservation outcomes of wildlife trade bans—An emerging problem for stakeholders? Global Ecology and Conservation 3: 389–400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Willette, D.A., F.A. Allendorf, P.H. Barber, D.J. Barshis, K.E. Carpenter, E.D. Crandall, W.A. Cresko, I. Fernandez-Silva, et al. 2014. So, you want to use next-generation sequencing in marine systems? Insight from the Pan-Pacific Advanced Studies Institute. Bulletin of Marine Science 90: 79–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Willette, D.A., S.E. Simmonds, S.H. Cheng, S. Esteves, T.L. Kane, H. Nuetzel, N. Pilaud, R. Rachmawati, et al. 2017. Using DNA barcoding to track seafood mislabeling in Los Angeles restaurants. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.12888.

    Google Scholar 

  • NOAA Seafood Import Monitoring Program, 15 CFR part 902, Vol 81, No. 237.

  • US FWS Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378.

  • World Wildlife Fund. 2016. An Analysis of the Impact of IUU Imports on U.S. Fishermen.

Download references


We thank participants of the LMU-UCLA Seafood Traceability Forum who made generous contributions to discussions reflected in this manuscript. Thank you to four anonymous reviewers for their valuable perspectives and suggestions in improving this manuscript. D.A. Willette would like to thank M.J.L. Joaquin for valuable logistics support. The manuscript was completed while D.A. Willette was a visiting U.S. Fulbright scholar at the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (Philippines) and at the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral's Centro de Agua y Desarrollo Sustentable (Ecuador).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Demian A. Willette.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Willette, D.A., Cheng, S.H. Delivering on seafood traceability under the new U.S. import monitoring program. Ambio 47, 25–30 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Fisheries
  • IUU fishing
  • Marine Policy
  • Seafood Import Monitoring Program
  • Seafood mislabeling
  • Traceability