The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently successfully prosecuted two companies for falsely labeling seafood as “products of the USA.”
On May 23, 2023, Jiu Fa Chen was sentenced to five years probation and a $100,000/~€92,300 fine for falsely labeling and exporting foreign-bought spiny lobsters as “Products of the USA.” Chen’s company, AIFA Seafood Incorporated, was sentenced to five years probation and a $250,000/~€230,750 fine. It’s now subject to rigorous compliance measures for all future business activities.
Another company, Elite Sky International Incorporated, was recently sentenced to a $250,000 fine and similar compliance measures. It was running the same illegal labeling scheme as AIFA Seafood.
Manny Antonaras, Assistant Director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division said:
“These individuals and companies intentionally misrepresented their lobster to be something that it’s not—a product of the United States. Fishermen and seafood producers who play by the rules deserve to be competitive in global markets. We work hard to help create an even playing field where domestic fishermen can market their American-caught products proudly around the world.”
AIFA Seafood’s illegal activity was first detected through compliance checks performed under the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIRP), according to NOAA. Additionally, an anonymous letter detailed elaborate schemes to illegally import spiny lobster to the United States. They would then be illegally exported to China under the false “Product of the USA” label.
Oceana Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine applauded the prosecutions:
“The Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) has once again proven its effectiveness in stopping seafood fraud, protecting responsible fisheries, and holding bad actors accountable. This week’s news from NOAA about criminal charges for illegal seafood operations further proves the value of SIMP and shows the need for NOAA to expand SIMP to all seafood species so that we can continue to combat seafood fraud and illegal fishing practices that plague our oceans.
“Because SIMP covers less than half of the seafood imported into the United States, many loopholes remain that allow lawbreakers to evade the rules. SIMP gave NOAA the tools it needed to stop this seafood fraud in its tracks and clearly helps combat illegal fishing activity that undermines the honest fishers and businesses that follow the law. It’s beyond time to expand SIMP so we can ensure all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”