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NCBFAA Calls for 'Registry' Approach for Seafood Certification of Admissibility Forms

The National Marine Fisheries Service should adopt a “registry” approach similar to that used by other agencies as it develops an electronic Certification of Admissibility form for seafood products in ACE, the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America said in recent comments to the agency. Duplicative data entry requirements for customs brokers wouldn't be “the best use of automation and would encumber the entry process,” given complex seafood supply chains and the vast amount of data associated with each shipment, the NCBFAA said.

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“Any discussion of seafood regulation must recognize the complexity of supply chains,” the NCBFAA said, responding to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking issued by NMFS in July (see 2207220030). For example, a typical tuna shipment can consist of seafood harvested by up to seven vessels, each having made at least six voyages, resulting in “42 sets of Captain’s Statements attached to Form 370 totaling nearly 200 pages,” the trade group said.

“When 15 additional data elements are required to be transmitted into ACE, we are not inputting 15 data elements per shipment. We are manually entering 15 data elements times the number of vessels times the number of voyages, or in the example above, 588 data elements per shipment,” the NCBFAA said. “And, if a shipment has a variety of fish in different HTS categories, the same data must be entered multiple times. So, the 15 data elements per shipment explodes into thousands of keystrokes for one entry.” Comments on the ANPRM were due Aug. 24.

The data on the COA is already transmitted to NMFS, so the “automated COA should not become a redundant Message Set layered over the current NOAA Message Set,” the NCBFAA said. Instead, the agency should develop an automated certificate registry. One option would be to adopt the approach recently taken by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, where foreign exporters, importers or brokers could upload the COA data in the registry and link to it via a reference number entered into the PGA message at entry, the trade group said.

Other options would be a government-to-government transfer of the certificate, “similar to the E-Phyto Hub used by” USDA, that is then referenced on the entry by the broker. Or, NMFS could “develop a system similar to the” FDA’s for food imports, “where approved fisheries could register with FDA and upload COA data into an NMFS system. Customs brokers/filers would provide the registration number of the fishery and the certificate number for the uploaded COA at entry,” the NCBFAA said.

The NCBFAA’s comments were one of four sets of comments so far posted by the NMFS on regulations.gov. Other comments from trade and environmental advocacy groups largely mirrored the NCBFAA’s emphasis on minimizing the burden on importers and brokers from providing the COA data.

The National Fisheries Institute said it’s difficult to provide input “at this time because the majority of seafood exporters and importers do not have experience with obtaining and submitting a COA,” noting that COA requirements are set to expand “due to the approaching potential import restrictions as necessitated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)” but are currently limited to only certain seafood species from Mexico. The NFI pointed to the NCBFAA’s comments as reflective of the “real-life, technical challenges of the” electronic filing process.

“While the requirements of the various trade monitoring programs are the responsibility of the seafood trade community, it is the customs broker community which provides the logistical support and expertise for the import filing process,” the NFI said.

The World Wildlife Fund noted there are already “at least six seafood trade monitoring programs managed by NOAA which require different types of data entry filing information into ACE," and urged the agency to develop COA filing requirements in a way that consolidates all of that data into one “consolidated form” in ACE. “This could both lessen entry filing for brokers and importers by eliminating redundancy, and serve as a data warehouse for NOAA, Customs, and other agencies to quickly and easily electronically access information required under various programs,” the WWF said.

The Stimson Center, a D.C.-based think tank, echoed these concerns. “Because NMFS requires different information for each trade monitoring program, the current state of implementation when viewed collectively can be seen as inefficient, at times ineffective, resulting in a filing landscape that is time-consuming, confusing, and unfair to industry who are trying to abide by the seafood importation requirements. NMFS should consider addressing the burden on industry of inconsistent filing requirements from program-to-program,” it said.

“While a COA is currently required for a relatively small quantity of seafood imports from Mexico, it is anticipated that in the near term this information will also become mandatory for all seafood imports under the [Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)] and Moratorium Protection Act to effectively enforce prohibitions under these regulations,” the Stimson Center said. “With COA data included in customs entry filing, the government will be able to implement trade restrictions more effectively and efficiently than ever before.”