Seafood Traceability


Fish displayed on ice offered for sale at the Rialto fish market. Photo: Todd Gipstein

Grant Recipient:  Oceans 5
Project Support:  The Seafood Traceability Project
Term:  2011 – 2013

The Seafood Traceability Project seeks to strengthen the traceability and transparency of global fisheries regimes to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and to provide new accountability in dominant import markets, including the United States and European Union. Oceans 5 is supporting the dedicated work of four nonprofit organizations to achieve these objectives including World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace,  Oceana, and the Marine Fish Conservation Network.


O5 Traceability

Pike Street Market, Seattle, Washington. Photo: Phil Schermeister

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to average 18 percent of the global catch. However, it is estimated to account for as much as 50 percent of the catch in several important commercial fisheries and over 30 percent in several oceanic regions. The global value of IUU is (US) $10-23 billion per year. The scale of IUU fishing creates obvious and understandable negative impacts on ocean health and coastal communities. At the same time, however, it undermines the integrity of fisheries management regimes in fundamental and profound ways. For example, fishing nations, managers, and businesses have no economic incentive to reduce catch or take costly conservation actions if IUU fishing interests will simply capture those economic benefits.

With few exceptions, seafood products are not easily traceable from the point of final sale back to their point of harvest and production. Fishing vessels and their owners are not licensed, registered or tracked systematically on a global basis.  Moreover, processing facilities typically import their catch from multiple sources or countries before re-exporting to major markets.  In most instances, if a consumer, retailer, or even a government regulator wants to know what type of fish was caught where and by whom, that information is not available.


Combating IUU fishing is a high and growing priority of governments, the fishing industry, and conservationists. Parties to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently finalized a binding new treaty defining minimum expectations for port controls on fishing vessels to reduce illegal seafood trade. The European Union recently adopted a far-reaching, anti-IUU certification scheme for imported seafood.  Large retailers, particularly those in the United States and European Union, are increasingly requiring that their seafood products are traceable.  In addition, new technologies and several for-profit companies have emerged to improve seafood traceability.

Most importantly, however, virtually all parties increasingly understand that existing seafood traceability policies, standards and mechanisms are inadequate. Oceans 5 seeks a unique opportunity to build upon emerging international requirements and expectations to define and implement a global system of seafood traceability.

Project Objectives

– Secure binding and enforceable traceability requirements for seafood sold in the U.S.;
– Improve implementation of anti-IUU fishing certification program in the EU;
– Establish an operational Global Registry of Fishing Vessels; and,
– Build government, business and public support for strengthened transparency requirements globally

About Oceans 5

Oceans 5 is a global funder’scollaborative, comprised of new and experienced philanthropists, committed to protecting the five oceans of the planet. The group collectively focuses its investments and support on large-scale, opportunistic projects and campaigns aimed at significantly expanding marine reserves and constraining overfishing.


Oceans 5 Website

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