I picked an inopportune moment to ask the top guy for the U.S fisheries industry for a little education on his business. He was among 350-400 participants from 80 nations around the world who were attending Secretary of State John Kerry’s “Our Ocean” Conference in Washington, D.C., last week. Who knew? “Our Ocean” was a by-invitation-only gathering for government ministers, scientists, and international “institutions” involved in protecting ocean ecosystems. All way beyond my pay grade, I am sure. But I managed to pull Saving Seafood’s Robert (Bob) Vanasse out of the conference with the high ocean mucky-mucks to talk about fish fraud and something called the “bycatch.” His staff had let me know a few days earlier that Food Safety News had published an item in March critical of his members’ fishing practices without giving the trade association for the U.S. commercial fishing industry a chance to comment. We hate it when that happens. The item was about a report from the international environmental group known as Oceana identifying what it called “the nine dirtiest U.S. fisheries.” It had to do with what they call the “bycatch,” meaning when ocean wildlife and non-targeted fish are also unintentionally brought up by commercial fishing. It was the first time I’d heard of the term, but I don’t like boats. Oceana first came on our radar screen for its periodic reports about “fish fraud,” which is when a cheaper species of fish is substituted for one that is more expensive and fooled consumers end up paying more for less. We’re interested in that because most of those who practice any kind of food fraud aren’t likely to give a rat’s behind about food safety. Just ahead of Secretary Kerry’s conference, Oceana mapped more than 100 studies of seafood fraud and species substitutions found all over the world. Vanasse says while Oceana may paint with a broader brush, Saving Seafood mostly agrees with it on fish fraud, including supporting Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey’s seafood fraud bill. On the “bycatch” issue, however, Saving Seafood hears too much environmental rhetoric painting the problem — usually in those letters pitched to prospective donors — without acknowledging what’s been accomplished. At the “Our Ocean” conference, Vanasse says experts from around the world were acknowledging that U.S. fisheries see the most regulation, inspection, and enforcement of anywhere on the planet. He says that’s why the “Made in the USA” label is a natural draw for consumers. In turn, a large percentage of the fish fraud that does exist involves passing cheaper and less-desirable foreign species off as a more expensive catch from U.S. fisheries that are in high demand. Sometimes, however, there is just confusion at the retail or restaurant level over the use of the wrong regional name for the same species of fish. At different areas on the Atlantic Coast, the same fish might be known as a Rock Fish or a Striped Bass, but that’s just the use of regional names and not fraud, Vanasse explains. But what he is really concerned about is making sure consumers understand that U.S. commercial fisheries are making progress in reducing the unintended catch. Like other industries, environmental progress is being driven by technological advancements. Fish gear on the ocean today is designed to catch only a specific species. Reidar’s Trawl Gear and Marine Supply in Massachusetts, for example, provides gear that catches only haddock without bringing flounder into the net. Vanasse cites other technologies reducing the unwanted catch such as turtle excluders and acoustic sound technology. In response to the Oceana report, Saving Seafood said: “The Atlantic sea scallop fishery, one of the most valuable in the nation, has partnered in the last decade with the Coonamessett Farm Foundation to design new gear that helps prevent endangered sea turtles from interacting with, and being injured by, scallop gear. These turtle excluder devices, which have been required on all scallop vessels since 2013, have successfully helped the scallop fleet reduce its turtle bycatch.” Vanassee says the new technologies and new management efforts have already led to measurable improvements. The progress the U.S. fishing industry is making is being recognized, just not being shared with those environmental donors. Most of those government officials from around the world who attended Kerry’s conference probably did so because their countries dominate the U.S. seafood market. They do so with less regulation, less inspection, and far less enforcement than what we impose on our domestic fishing industry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which regulates U.S fisheries, has more ships than most foreign navies. Subjecting our side to all that we do is something that we need to put in perspective from time to time.