SoFISHticated Episode 1 is Now Available
If there’s one thing NFI’s Richard Barry and Melaina Lewis know about Peeps, chocolate bunnies, and hip-hop feuds, it’s their impact on Lenten sales.
Find out what on earth that means and what’s on the horizon for seafood during the Lenten season in NFI’s new member’s only podcast.
A SoFISHticated Podcast for NFI Members
Over the past two years, the seafood community has navigated an ever-evolving business landscape. With so much innovation, change, and disruption, NFI members need a way to keep up with what’s going on in the seafood industry.
That’s why NFI is launching SoFISHticated — a new podcast AND member resource. NFI’s Communication Director, Melaina Lewis, and Richard Barry, programs director, will break down the accelerated changes and opportunities brought by the pandemic, as well as, emerging trends and issues on the horizon for the seafood industry.
However hectic your days maybe, have confidence that NFI is here to provide you with meaningful SoFISHticated takeaways on public policy and regulations to industry trends, consumer insights, and more.
The first episode launches next week for NFI members. Listen to the trailer below.
The modern-day lawn dart: NOAA’s Seafood Import Monitoring Program
This article was originally published in Urner Barry’s Reporter Quarterly Magazine.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) is the modern-day lawn dart. Envision it—excited, naive toymakers merge a distinctly indoor
game with outdoor fun on a grand scale. Enthusiastic elves whip themselves into a frenzy, and then the barely pressure-tested concept is sent to toy manufacturers to be readied for the holidays.
As it turns out, lawn darts don’t work that well. While they might be conceptually fun, they’re also very dangerous. And, ultimately, do more harm than good.
While you’re unlikely to be impaled by a flying Seafood Import Monitoring Program, expansion of the program could do more harm than good. It’s also a misdirected effort of federal programming, a compliance headache and a regulatory mess. SIMP was supposedly created as part of an effort to stop illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud, but the program falls short of its big, intended purpose.
NOAA Itself Says Simp Does Not Stop IUU
SIMP currently covers 13 species (such as shrimp, cod, tuna, mahi-mahi, and grouper) thought to be at risk of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Keep in mind the majority of shrimp is farmed, making this effort to stop illegal fishing almost nonsensical. What’s more, it’s a misnomer to suggest the program only covers a handful of products because these 13 categories include more than 1,100 unique species.
In its own report, released May 21, 2021, NOAA clearly states, “SIMP does not prevent or stop IUU fish and fish products from entering the U.S.” In fact, NOAA highlights that the “violations” are largely clerical, “most of the issues that have been found relate to issues apparent from the documents themselves (e.g., vessel permit dates do not match harvest dates, documents are missing).”
While groups, like Oceana and WWF, along with various voices on Capitol Hill continue to push for the expansion of SIMP, NOAA itself emphasizes that the agency remains “focused on maintaining the risk-based nature of SIMP.”
Calls for expanding the program to all species undercut this very clear focus on risk. So why do we continue to see misguided legislation pushing to expand an already flawed federal program? Could it be that NGOs are unwitting pawns in a game designed to not stop IUU, but to place non-tariff barriers on imports? Your guess is as good as mine.
The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) and six leading associations representing the nation’s commercial seafood supply chain that employs 1.25 million Americans stated in a letter to Congressional leaders, “In attempting to respond to the challenge of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (“IUU”) fishing, the bill imposes unworkable regulatory mandates on industry, raises the costs and risks for American fishermen to sell their catch in the United States, and exposes U.S. exporters to retaliation in overseas markets, all without addressing the existing program’s lack of demonstrated success in deterring illegally harvested products from reaching U.S. ports.”
Costing U.S. seafood jobs, in search of an ill-conceived plan likely designed to impede imported competition, would be the real legacy of expanding SIMP.
Laws That Continue to Create Supply Chain Burdens
In an unprecedented time, where port congestion and shortages in transportation are causing severe disruptions, we need real solutions. Not a misguided effort that creates significant cost and administrative burdens for the entire value chain, thus impacting U.S. jobs and raising prices for American consumers.
The seafood community estimates it has spent over $50 million on SIMP regulatory and paperwork compliance for just the 13 species covered by the program, a significant economic burden on an industry working hard to feed Americans.
An expansion of SIMP would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in annual expense and impose a complex regulatory burden on domestic harvesters of the additional items, without having an impact on IUU (because little to no U.S. fish is caught illegally).
SIMP Was Flawed From the Start
Though initially framed as an attempt to combat IUU fishing among non-U.S. fleets, the program continues to miss its mark. SIMP was prompted largely by a single study published in May 2014. Relying almost entirely on confidential interviews, that study made wild assertions about the extent of IUU-harvested products in the U.S. market. Using the same approach, two of the authors made similar allegations in a 2018 study about IUU products harvested in the U.S. and found in the Japanese market. This methodology was so flawed that the publishing journal retracted it.
The seafood industry strongly supports efforts to combat IUU fishing, which includes support for the many federal initiatives underway to ensure the U.S. is a strong leader in promoting sustainable fisheries management and identifying measures that can reduce the rate of IUU fishing activity globally.
The U.S. has strong laws in place to protect the rights of workers across all industries, credible reporting on instances of human rights abuses in parts of the global seafood supply chain reminds us that not every country prioritizes or enforces such protections. SIMP is not, and was not designed to be, a silver bullet against IUU; moreover, federal resources to devote to SIMP are finite.
The focus of U.S. policy must be on constructing a streamlined SIMP program that is more effective, more efficient, and more carefully targeted towards the highest-risk sources of IUU products. One way to do that might be to scrap it and start over. Sort of like what they did with lawn darts.
Greenpeace’s Retailer “Scorecard” Is Outmoded and Irrelevant
If you missed Greenpeace’s release of their 2021 tuna retailer “scorecard”, then you’re not alone. The group has tried countless times over the years to garner publicity by ranking retailers’ seafood sourcing policies according to their own arbitrary and shifting preferences, and each such effort has met with diminishing traction and declining media coverage. The latest iteration continues that trend, landing with more of a thud than a splash.
As with previous “reports,” this one assigns arbitrary and unscientific scores according to a secret methodology that Greenpeace has never agreed to disclose. That lack of transparency should be a clue that the primary goal of this exercise is not positive, incremental change, but fundraising and self-promotion.
The “scorecard” does nothing to educate buyers or assist in any meaningful sustainability efforts. There is serious work being done by responsible experts at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), but Greenpeace has shown no interest in participating in that process, despite good-faith invitations to do so.
The reality is that tuna retailers, and their suppliers, are now light years ahead of the activist group on sustainable sourcing and metrics, with more progress being made every day.
But it’d be bad enough if Greenpeace’s scorecards were merely outmoded or irrelevant. Unfortunately, they’re also dangerous. Because the group now goes so far as to tell Americans to “eat less fish”, a disastrous piece of public health advice that flies in the face of both the scientific consensus and the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The truth is tuna is packed with nutrients, such as vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, and beneficial omega-3s called EPA and DHA.
You could say that Greenpeace has finally jumped the shark—or the albacore—but the reality is they did that a long time ago. Now they’re just repeating the same performance to an ever-diminishing audience.
Boston Globe: NFI urges Congress to put pressure on shipping companies
Boston Globe Report: Mass. lawmakers urge resumption of shipping at Port of Boston
By Hiawatha Bray and Anissa Gardizy November 12, 2021
Six members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have signed letters to three global shipping companies, urging them to reverse a recent decision to stop making port calls at Massport’s Conley Container Terminal.
The letters sent to COSCO Shipping, CMA CGM, and Evergreen Shipping Agency state that the companies decided to skip regular shipments to Boston starting next week (Nov. 14) to focus on speeding up deliveries at larger ports, including New York, amid the global supply-chain crisis. Shipments to Boston are not expected to resume until Feb. 2, according to an online marine shipping schedule, the lawmakers wrote.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Representatives Ayanna Pressley, William Keating, Jake Auchincloss, and Stephen Lynch signed the letters, which are dated Nov. 4
“As we face these challenges together, I urge you to make every effort to restore this service to Boston as soon as possible in an effort to support New England businesses and keep good paying jobs in Boston,” they wrote.
The lawmakers said the decision to bypass Boston will impact companies that depend on shipments during the holiday season and will force local manufacturers to wait on truck deliveries from ports located hundreds of miles away. They added that it undermines “massive investments” made in the Port of Boston and will take away work from dockworkers during the winter months.
The shipping companies, which are part of the Ocean Alliance coalition, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The working port of Boston is a great place to do business, but the supply chain crisis, and its ever changing nature, is forcing shipping lines to take some temporary measures they wouldn’t normally pursue,” said a statement issued by Massport. “As always, we appreciate the support of the congressional delegation.”
The National Fisheries Institute, a major seafood trade organization, urged Congress to put pressure on the shipping companies. Many of the group’s members are major seafood importers and exporters, and supply-chain delays pose a major challenge in shipping highly perishable merchandise requiring constant and costly refrigeration.
NFI member Kim Gorton, chief executive of Slade Gorton & Co. of Boston, said the cancelled Ocean Alliance ships were supposed to deliver seafood to her company from producers in China and Vietnam.
“My hub is Boston,” said Gorton. “So not having anything coming into Boston is problematic.”
For example, Gorton pays rent for space in refrigerated warehouses. That money goes to waste if the fish is offloaded in New York. In addition, the cargo must be trucked to Boston. With the ongoing shortage of trucks and drivers, this adds several days to the process. Gorton must pay extra storage fees to the port, as well as a fee for delayed return of the shipping container. In addition, highway weight limits in Connecticut are lower than those in Massachusetts, Gorton said. So her company must unload the seafood and redistribute the loads among a larger number of trucks before making the trip to Boston.
All the while, said Gorton, a newly remodeled port in Boston with ample cargo capacity is largely unused.
“We’re trying to help our congressional delegation understand that the $850 million investment our government has made in the Port of Boston is for naught at this point,” she said.
Staying Healthy Over the Holidays With Seafood (Video)
Many foods can help boost our overall health over the holidays. Whether the holidays are merry or not, this time of year can put extra stress on us or can just feel incredibly overwhelming. The good news is that eating a seafood diet rich in healthful, nourishing foods can help protect against the wintertime blues.
Jennifer McGuire, RD, MS, of the National Fisheries Institute and Dish on Fish spokesperson, Rima Kleiner, RD, MS, joined Oldways recently to share more on how to stay healthy over the holidays with seafood.
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet that includes seafood is a great way to get more of the nutrients you need to help keep you healthy over the holidays.
We know that the foods we eat can greatly impact our health, and that includes our immune system. This is incredibly empowering because it means we can help keep ourselves healthy over the holiday season by choosing foods that contain nutrients that are beneficial for supporting the immune system, like zinc, antioxidants, and vitamins A, B6, C, and D. These nutrients are found in foods that feature prominently in the Mediterranean diet, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, seeds and seafood, both fish and shellfish.
Eating seafood can boost your health to keep you healthy over the holidays.
The omega-3s and vitamin D in seafood can help support mental wellness, boost brain health and improve mood. Studies from Iceland and Japan—countries with short winter days and typically high fish intake—show that there may be a correlation between a high-seafood diet and the reduced risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which impacts about 5% of the US population over the winter months.
There are easy ways to incorporate more seafood into our holiday menus.
Seafood is so versatile and is a great protein-rich food to add to your holiday festivities. One way to enjoy seafood at Thanksgiving is to include it in appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. The Dish on Fish digital cookbook includes 65 delicious-seafood recipes. A couple of appetizers that would work well at Thanksgiving are the Air Fryer Mac ‘n’ Cheese Tuna Bites and the Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs. Baked spinach and artichoke shrimp dip is just super comforting and always crowd-pleasing.
And right on the heels of Thanksgiving is Christmas and Hanukkah, which falls right after Thanksgiving this year. You can serve these traditional holiday dishes with more healthful proteins and lots of vegetables to make your Hanukkah a tad healthier. For example, top latkes with a little cream cheese, or farmer’s cheese, smoked salmon and chopped chives on top. Or try adding some veggies to your latkes for more antioxidants and serving alongside roasted salmon or other baked fish to up your intake of those immune-boosting omega-3s.
Watch the entire conversation with Oldways here:
For more resources, we have many videos discussing the health benefits of eating seafood—including immune health—at our NFI YouTube channel, Dish on Fish, and AboutSeafood.com.
Plant-Based Seafood Needs Accurate Labeling
Read NFI President John Connelly’s Op-Ed published on November 11, 2021, via IntraFish, below:
I’ve read with interest and some puzzlement the back-and-forth chat about the labeling of plants as seafood. It is an important discussion, and one folks in the dairy industry did not have 15 years ago.
I majored in history in college (yes, leading NFI is where a College of the Holy Cross history degree lands you). Consequently, I firmly believe in Santayana’s saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
So, let’s look at some history and sprinkle in relevant data and facts. Nielsen numbers show sales of non-dairy “milks” have risen more than 23 percent since 2015, while sales of real cow’s milk have fallen. Plant-based alternative beverages now account for about 13 percent of total “milk” sales in the United States.
The current regulatory argument being made is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed the facsimiles to be labeled as “milk” for so long that the term itself has become the common name.
All this, despite the fact that FDA’s standard of identity for milk clearly states the product must “come from a healthy cow.” And to paraphrase former FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb…almonds and soy don’t have teats.
Currently, plant-based product labeling is governed by a ‘label it until they tell me I can’t’ mentality
I have been bemused when reading comments from those who do not invest in NFI but seek to explain what they think our policies and positions are. I tend to pay more attention to those whose signature is on the bottom right of that paper I earn every two weeks.
Let me be the one to share our position: NFI has publicly and repeatedly stated that plant-based foods are an important innovation and serve a population segment looking for alternatives. Heck, some of our leading companies are investing or partnering with plant-based businesses. What NFI has clearly stood for over the years is equal regulatory and labeling treatment of all foods to avoid consumer confusion.
NFI members must adhere to a 5,000-word-seafood-labeling regulation designed to ensure consumer confidence and guarantee shoppers are provided an accurate description of the product they’re purchasing.
Currently, plant-based product labeling is governed by a “label it until they tell me I can’t” mentality. This is a plant-based seafood executive’s version of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ “fake it until you make it” strategy.
Here’s the bottom line — NFI’s members do not want to risk labeling lunacy that could affect seafood sales in 2030 because of inaction in 2021.
I tend to pay more attention to those whose signature is on the bottom right of that paper I earn every two weeks.
Some commenters have suggested that people fully know they are not buying seafood when choosing plants disguised as fish. Actual data shows otherwise.
A study conducted by the consumer research firm FoodMinds found between 29 and 35 percent of consumers surveyed believed plant-based seafood products contained real seafood.
An additional 6-8 percent were simply unsure what they contained. For NGOs and others that demand consumer transparency, where is the outrage that companies are deceiving American shoppers? Is it because these new products are currently having a glow-up?
The FoodMinds research looked at the health and nutrition of seafood and plants as well. And while three of the five plant-based alternative seafood products featured were less nutritious than their real counterparts (less protein, more total and saturated fat, and more
sodium), between 55-59 percent of consumers thought they all had similar nutritional content to actual fish. Where are the demands for transparency from public health groups that seek a healthier diet for Americans?
Then there’s the question of intent. Are some companies intentionally mudding the waters with confusing labeling? If they weren’t trying to confuse consumers, why not just tell them what’s in the package? “Mushed Veggies Pressed Into a Shape” may not be a marketer’s dream – but at least it would be accurate.
As history would suggest, the FDA needs to act on labels before they become a common name. Data shows consumers do not know what is in these packages. Facts show many of these products are nutritionally inferior. Is it any wonder these fakes hide what they actually sell?
Great companies are built on innovation.
Shady companies are built on confidence games. So, is this the “wrong fight” to engage in? Absolutely not. Fair treatment under the law is a cornerstone of a democratic system. Fair treatment of consumers is just good business sense.
Hey…Where’s The Fish?
This article was originally published in Urner Barry’s Reporter Quarterly Magazine.
Picture this. You’re strolling through the frozen seafood aisle of your grocery store in search of some delicious, nutritious seafood. You find two products side by side, but there’s a problem. The label tells you nothing. You can’t tell which product is made with the healthiest animal protein on the planet or which contains a mix of plants and vegetables that are shaped to look like seafood. Why is that?
Vegan, plant-based and vegetarian versions of “meat” products have been popular for some time. The veggie burger, “tofurky,” and meatless “chick’n” strips can be found at grocery stores nationally. Now, so called plant-based seafoods parade around as “vegan shrimp,” or “Toona,” seeking footholds in the marketplace – and confusing customers.
Many of these highly processed, plant-based brands market themselves as “seafood alternatives” as well as claim to have the same nutritional benefits as the seafood products they mimic. They don’t. In fact, they often lack key nutrients such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Let’s not mince facts. These “alternative” products violate Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements. The FDA’s existing requirements state that nutritionally inferior substitutes must be labeled as “imitation.” Mislabeling food is a serious infraction and can harm consumers both by depriving them of expected nutritional benefits and by possibly exposing them to food allergies. The FDA statutes state labels that are misleading in any way are regarded as “misbranded.”
National Fisheries Institute (NFI) members – the nation’s largest seafood producers – properly label and ensure that thousands of commercial seafood products meet FDA’s strict requirements. For instance, blended seafood products made primarily with fish protein are known as – and lawfully labeled – “crab flavored seafood, made with surimi, a fully cooked fish protein” or “imitation crab.”
This is one blunt example of how actual seafood purveyors are required to label a product made with actual fish protein as “imitation.” At the same time, the FDA refuses to enforce such a requirement on highly processed, plant-based alternative products designed and marketed to imitate fish without containing any fish protein. Let’s be honest here, just because you spell tuna as “toona” doesn’t mean it’s fish.
A study by consumer research firm FoodMinds showed that about 40 percent of consumers believed plant-based imitations contain actual seafood. Up to 60 percent thought the products had similar nutritional content as real fish. Still, fake-seafood producers are resisting more accurate labeling, and without any evidence claiming that customers know what they are getting.
To push consumer confusion further, companies offering plant-based seafood imitations continue to double down on the vegan fish nutrition claim. Some are bold enough to claim a highly-processed vegetable mash that attempts to imitate raw tuna is healthier than real tuna. Are vegetables nutritious food? Sure. Do they come close to the complex offering of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in tuna? Any reputable doctor or dietitian will tell you the answer is, no.
Americans simply don’t consume nearly enough seafood. About 90% do not meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines directive to eat seafood twice per week. Any suggestion that consumers should steer clear of seafood for nutrition reasons further exacerbates this problem.
Plant-based products are innovative, and we hope they will contribute to feeding a growing world. They have a place on menus and in stores. However, the nation’s lead food safety regulator for seafood has a fundamental obligation to protect and inform American families about the food they eat. Banners like “Vegan Lobster” appear to tell shoppers what’s not in the package.
The solution is clear: FDA must enforce its existing labeling requirements. Labels must follow existing requirements and meet the same labeling standards imposed on actual seafood products.
If seafood products must meet FDA requirements to distinguish among different fish, then surely a product made of konjac powder, pea starch, and fenugreek should not be allowed to be labeled, “smoked salmon.” American consumers deserve factual and clear labels on the foods they buy, and they deserve this now. Not years from now.
Something’s fishy about labeling plant products as seafood
Read Guy Simmons’ Letter to the Editor published June 10, 2021 on NJ.com, below:
Seventy percent of seafood consumed is sold in restaurants. Or, at least that was the statistic before the pandemic arrived. It was March 2020 when New Jersey’s seafood sector witnessed a truly terrifying combination of events as both sides of our supply chain and everything in between seized up.
Restaurants closed, processing slowed, distribution ground to a halt and boats remained tied up. If it weren’t for resourcefulness, ingenuity and even federal funding, New Jersey seafood wouldn’t be rebounding the way it is.
But, just as the industry claws its way back as restaurants reopen and producers look to make inroads in retail, there’s a new challenge: plant-based, imitation seafood products which many in our industry believe are mislabeled.
Attention friends, neighbors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: there’s no such thing as “vegan clam strips.” And, just because you spell tuna as “toona” doesn’t mean it’s fish.
For years, regulators have looked the other way as almond drinks were mislabeled as “milk” and now they seem not to understand that the sea makes seafood, not mashed up, processed vegetables.
You want to be a vegan? Be my guest. But, in the process, accurately label vegan food. Better yet, how about if the FDA were to follow its own rules and regulations about misbranded products?
Guy Simmons, Senior Vice President, Sea Watch International/TMT Clams, Atlantic City
Editor’s note: Sea Watch International, headquartered in Atlantic City and Maryland, with its subsidiary, TMC Clams, is among the nation’s largest harvesters and processors of domestic clams.