ARLINGTON, Va. -- The National Fisheries Institute here is paying out a longer line -- timeline -- for its proposed Resource Enhancement and Access program, in part because an ongoing survey of first receivers and importers has uncovered a much larger potential pool of contributors.
According to Richard Gutting Jr., the NCI's executive vice president, early surveys identified some 6,000 companies eligible for assessments dedicated to research and public education. Now, the trade organization is raising the number to nearly 10,000, and it wants more time to contact them.
"We tried to call them all in December," he said. "We reached less than 2,000, and those knew nothing about [the program]. And, we had tremendous difficulties reaching them."
As a result, the trade group plans to hold off on presenting the assessment program to the board of directors until all companies can be informed of the plan, and allowed a chance to respond. The survey is also serving a larger purpose, since it reveals just how decentralized and fragmented the seafood industry is, and the need for a program like those found in the beef and dairy industries, which has a national agenda and scope, said Gutting.
"It has to be approved by a majority of receivers and importers for the program to be effective," he added.
The NFI's plan, which would include oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would charge first receivers and importers at a rate of one-quarter of 1% of "equalized" value in order to fund initiatives that address long-term needs in the areas of resource enhancement and access, as well as improving the public image of the industry, which increasingly has come under attack by environmental groups on such issues as depletion of particular species like Atlantic swordfish and orange roughy [see "Retailers Join Restaurateurs in Sustainable Seafood Effort," SN, May 10, 1999], as well as fishing tactics.
Some industry processors have strenuously objected to the present proposal, arguing that the program -- and its mandatory assessments -- duplicate efforts already managed by the federal government or state and regional seafood associations.
One such company, Ocean Garden Products, San Diego, sent to its trade customers a letter stating it opposed the program because "there is already a well-established system in place to protect and enhance international seafood resources" through ascending levels of federal oversight within the Department of Commerce.
Similarly, there is opposition based on the industry's diversity. "We are region-specific and species-specific, with many types of animals and many types of producers, first receivers and importers," the letter stated.