Fish regulations too scaled back

Published 4:08 pm Monday, July 30, 2007

By Staff
Asking a commercial fisherman or crabber about the best spots to crab and fish may yield a wary, or weary, reply. It’s a tough way to make a living — and some years are tougher than others. Asking the same fisherman what he thinks of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones offers 50/50 odds. But asking him or her for an opinion on the bones of the Foreign Seafood Safety Act will yield two resounding responses: It’s a piece of legislation that’s long overdue. And it’s one that commercial fishermen can’t afford to find dead in the water.
Jones, who represents eastern North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, introduced the seafood-safety bill in the U.S. House this month. The legislation would ensure that foreign fish (or crabs or shrimp, for that matter) that are sold in the United States have to meet the same safety regulations as those that are caught in the Pamlico Sound, the Pacific Ocean, or any other domestic body of water.
Passage of that bill would protect both consumers and the people who depend on the waters to make ends meet. It’s an issue of fairness, really.
As much as 80 percent of the seafood that is eaten in the United States comes from another country. Yet, under current law, foreign seafood is not held to the same standards as that from here. That reality defies sound logic.
A lax standard isn’t fair to the people who go to the grocery stores and buy fish or shrimp or clams or oysters. It doesn’t protect the folks who want to go out for a celebratory lobster dinner and don’t want to play Russian roulette with their health. Just as importantly, the rules don’t protect U.S. fishermen who have to meet federal Food and Drug Administration standards, while competing against other fishermen who don’t.
Under the proposed safety plan, any country wishing to export its seafood to the U.S. would have to receive certification from the FDA. To receive that certification, the foreign nation would have to prove that its safety standards are at least as stringent as those found here.
Frankly, it shouldn’t take a supermarket scandal involving tainted Chinese seafood to get legislators to cast a net toward fixing this safety issue. The United States Department of Agriculture requires countries that send beef to the U.S. to reach a safety bar. It’s only appropriate that similar oversight should apply to the seafood industry.
If that means the FDA gets more money to hire more inspectors, then so be it. The government has been known to spend money on far more frivolous things.
We certainly hope that our own restaurants and markets buy local seafood whenever possible. But that doesn’t negate the statistic mentioned earlier. If the reality is that eight out of 10 pieces of seafood eaten here are foreign, then our domestic rules ought to reflect that reality. Sitting down for a seafood dinner shouldn’t be a gamble.