The US domestic market loves crab and they love inexpensive crab even more

Interview of Mr. Jake Jacobsen, the director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a US crab harvester group. 

- When did you begin to consider IUU crab import as a problem for American business and market?

- 1994.

- There are many ways to legalize IUU crab in China, South Korea, South America. After legalization this crab goes to US. Can the American purchasers guess about it`s real origin? If yes, can we consider them as participators in the crime?

- I don’t think there is a single rule that fits all participants.  I believe some are fully aware of the IUU origins of the crab they import and others are unaware, unconcerned or don’t want to know.

- There is strong legislation in US. A number of laws strictly regulate the import. For example Lacey Act. Why didn`t it stop IUU crab import from Russia in 1990-th? Why doesn`t it stop this import now?

- Apparently it is not as strong as some might think.  The current law requires enforcement to prove that product is illegal.  A more effective law may require that the importer prove it is legally caught.  As stated in question 2, there is a «legalization process», whereby IUU product origins are obscured.  A clear and bright certification and traceability standard would give US enforcers, importers, dealers, and consumers confidence in the product.

- Some of my compatriots say: US stimulates the poaching in Russia by buying IUU crab? How do you think, is this reproach fair?

- No.  The US domestic market loves crab and they love inexpensive crab even more.  Most importers and dealers assume the product is legal until there is proof that it is not — and they do not feel making the determination should be their responsibility.

- In 2011 in Seattle authorities arrested the crab parcel of Russian company Kondor-Transport. Did you hear about that case? If yes, what was the end of the story? Are such cases often in US (concerning crab from Russia)?

- I have heard about the case.  The crab was purchased by Harbor Seafoods (the original purchaser) at auction.  Such cases are extremely rare.  I understand the information necessary to prosecute the case was provided by a Russian source, possibly a competitor.  The case has created some nervousness among US buyers which has resulted in lower prices for crab sourced from Russia.

- Are there many expatriates from Russia, who do crab business  in US?

- There are some in the US and others that operate in the US from Canada or elsewhere.

- Do you know such crab businessmen, living in US, as Ivan Mikhnov, Arkady Gontmakher? How do you consider them: as partners, as competitors or somehow else?

- I do not know them personally, but I know of them.  I consider them competitors.

- What steps do the American non-governmental organizations take to draw attention of the authorities and society to the problem of IUU crab import?

- Up until very recently, there was little attention given to the problem of IUU crab by NGOs.  This is changing, and for some, it has become a primary focus of their efforts.  Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers is working closely with several NGOs to work on the IUU crab issue.

- How do you estimate volume of IUU crab import from Russia? What influence does it have on the American market and the prices?

- We look at the Russian TAC and compare it with import statistics.  We consider IUU crab to be the primary cause of lower prices in the U.S.  The Alaskan crab fisheries are managed and fished on a sustainable basis.  There is a cost associated with the kind of responsible fishery we engage in.  We feel the US public is willing to pay sustainable prices for crab originating from a sustainable, ecologically and socially responsible fishery.   The IUU crab available undercuts those prices and undermines our efforts to maintain the standard of responsibility and sustainability we have embraced.

- As I know, IUU crab import comes down since 2008. If my information is right, what`s the reason of this coming down?

- IUU imports seem to fluctuate with market prices, but over all has been declining.  This is probably due to increased enforcement activity in the Russian EEZ.

- What do you expect from Japan – Russia agreement?

- I am expecting clever and resourceful people to find a number of effective ways to circumvent it.

- Is there crab poaching in US? How do your authorities control the crabbers?

- There is no crab poaching in the BSAI crab fisheries of Alaska.  Every pound of our crab is accounted for, and the penalties for circumventing the regulations far outweigh any potential benefit.

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