What is CITES? Threatened Species and Forced Labor Issues in Seafood Imports and International Trade

by | Nov 20, 2023

Seafood importers must be aware of and comply with CITES and Forced Labor laws, among others. Read on below to learn more about CITES and its effects on international trade.

What is CITES?

CITES is an international agreement with 184 member parties.

CITES stands for “The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.”

The CITES agreement, established in 1973, serves as an international pact between governments. It aims to regulate and control the international trade of threatened species, including endangered plants and wild animals. Currently, 184 member parties adhere to this agreement. Its primary objective is to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of species in the wild. Through CITES, countries work together to protect and conserve vulnerable species by implementing regulations and restrictions on the import, export, and sale of endangered wildlife and plants.

Aimed at Protecting Endangered Species Including Wild Fauna

The CITES appendices , shown here, list all species regulated by the agreement.

Among the 184 parties to the CITES Convention is the United States. Importers must know the genus and species of their fish and wildlife product and be able to categorize them in the species listed in the CITES Appendices.

There are three (3) different Appendices that include CITES listed species, which specify the level of restriction on trade:

  • Species in Appendix I: are prohibited from commercial trade because they are threatened with extinction.

  • Species in Appendix II: are allowed some trade as long as the exporting country issues a permit based on certain findings. These include species who can become threatened with extinction if their trade is not controlled.

  • Species in Appendix III: are species whose commercial trade is regulated and requires an export permit and a certificate of origin.


Illegal Wildlife Trade Including Marine Species

A large beluga sturgeon, one of the species regulated by CITES, underwater among wooden debris.
Close-up of a large beluga sturgeon in a lake during the migration season. Since 1997, CITES has regulated the international trade of Sturgeon.

CITES regulates many marine species. In addition to national laws, the U.S. enforces the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, some states have their own additional restrictions. Importers have the responsibility to verify that their seafood products do not feature on Appendix I of CITES and comply with all other international wildlife trade laws. Furthermore, they must comply with the labeling requirements for marine species to avoid issues related to illegal wildlife trade.

Forced Labor Another Major Concern

Fishing boats are moored in the seaport, against the backdrop of sunset.
Forced labor is prevalent in the seafood industry, as identified by multiple sources.


Another area of concern for seafood imports is compliance with the forced labor laws. Forced labor, a form of modern-day slavery, coerces individuals to work unwillingly, often under exploitative and abusive conditions. Identified as a major industry where forced labor thrives, the seafood industry frequently employs trafficked and forced laborers on fishing vessels. These laborers catch seafood products that are subsequently imported into other countries. This means that seafood importers may unknowingly be supporting and contributing to this illegal and unethical practice.

Combating Forced Labor in Seafood Imports

Illegal trade practices including forced labor affect the import of seafood, such as the frozen fish seen here in containers at a wholesale market.

According to a recent report by the Outlaw Ocean Project, entities that employed Uyghur labor shipped approximately 47,000 metric tons of seafood to the United States.

These included shipments that includes species of cod, shrimp, salmon, crab and squid. Authorities recently seized a shipment of totoaba swim bladders. These species were subject to both the U.S. Endangered Species Act and CITES.


Companies must carefully review and scrutinize their supply chains to ensure they are free from forced labor and other illegal trade practices. Companies must also check that they have the necessary permits and documentation under CITES and the Endangered Species Act.*


Be sure to follow SGL on social media for all the latest on CITES, logistics news, and more!


*This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult an expert.

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