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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Much ado about pollock
Sleight of hand in the Atlantic and the Bering Sea.
Alasak pollock - an inexpensive whitefish, used for processed seafood such as fish sticks and imitation crab meat - does not usually command the attention of the State Department. But a $9m shipment of it, currently sitting on a dock in the Moroccan port of Agadir, has embroiled governments on both sides of the Atlantic, and underscores the risks of doing business at sea.
The pollock was bound for Germany onboard the Polestar, a seafood-shipping vessel detained by Moroccos armed forces on May 24th at the request of several European countries. Although the fish was legal, the Polestar was on a blacklist of ships involved in illegal fishing kept by western European maritime authorities.
The Polestars cargo originated in the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and the incident is an embarrassing one for the west-coast seafood industry. Alaska pollock caught from the Bering Sea are one of Americas largest seafood exports. They come from a sustainable fishery, a rare thing in the seafood business, but one that consumers increasingly care about. Alaska pollock carries the label of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a London-based organisation which certifies sustainable seafood. Wal-Mart, Americas biggest retailer, announced last summer that within five years it would stock only MSC-certified fish.
No one has seriously alleged that the Polestars MSC-certified cargo, which was shipped by Trident Seafoods, was tampered with after it left Alaska. But the fact that it was on board a ship that had recently been caught loading illegal fish in the North Atlantic does not look good. The Polestar is a tramper, a ship that carries seafood without using containersand can therefore, without need of a large crane or other port machinery, load up on the high seas from boats that have been fishing illegally. (It was caught loading redfish from Georgian vessels, and fled the scene.) In the pollock case, the State Department and the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have spent recent weeks attempting to distance the legitimate fish from the illegitimate vessel.
The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, meeting last week, decided that the pollock could proceed to Europe as long it was on a legal ship. The Polestars fate remains undecided. But the business of international shipping is notoriously lawless and, in some respects, becoming more so. American and European fisheries regulators believe that as countries crack down on illegal fishing in their own waters, more outlaws are engaging in the kind of high-seas transactions that got the Polestar into trouble. And this case serves warning to the intermediary companies involved in shipping seafood that they are sailing in dangerous waters.
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