U.S. lawmakers request probe on impact of illegal seafood imports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senior House of Representatives Democrats on Thursday asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate the impact on the economy of “unfair competition” from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) seafood imports from China and elsewhere.

Such imports account for up to 31% of the global catch of fish, at an estimated value of $23 billion, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and fellow committee member Earl Blumenauer said in a letter to the ITC.

The request for a probe comes a week after the United States and China reached agreement on a Phase 1 trade deal to defuse trade tensions and scale back tariffs that have been a drag on global economic growth.

“IUU fishing contributes to the overexploitation of fish stocks, threatens the livelihoods of coastal communities, jeopardizes food security, and harms marine ecosystems,” the lawmakers said in the letter. It also creates “unfair competition for U.S. fishermen as imports account for 90 percent of U.S. seafood consumption.”

Neal and Blumenauer said China, the largest seafood trade partner of the United States, was ranked as “worst among 152 coastal countries based on the prevalence of IUU fishing and the country’s response to it.”

The lawmakers urged the ITC to investigate the size, scope, supply chains, pricing pressures, and potential economic effects of the problem, as well as details about the prevalence of IUU products in the U.S. import market.

They asked for details on international mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement to address IUU fishing; the size and structure of the U.S. commercial fishing industry; and major global producers of IUU products.

China in August unveiled a draft law to prevent illegal fishing and depletion of coastal fish stocks, calling illegal and unsustainable fishing practices, such as the use of explosives or electrocution, a serious problem.

The ITC, an independent, nonpartisan federal agency, investigates issues at the request of the U.S. Trade Representative, the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee. Such investigations can be used by the trade representative or Congress to undergird initiatives.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler