Earlier this week, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 1200 (HB 1200), which will begin to tackle seafood fraud throughout the state. Seafood fraud switches out the fish consumers intend to purchase with fish that is cheaper, less sustainable, or even dangerous. Oceana’s recent seafood fraud report found that 18 percent of fish sampled and sold in Seattle, WA, was mislabeled. And Washington’s results were better than most – our testing showed that fully one-third of seafood in restaurants and grocery stores throughout the country is mislabeled. Among specific cities and regions of the country, the numbers get even worse: 38 percent of Miami samples were mislabeled, 39 percent of New York City samples were mislabeled, and an incredible 52 percent of samples we tested in Southern California were not what they were labeled.
“Washington state continues to lead the way on seafood consumer protection issues,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific Counsel and Senior Advisor with Oceana. “This bill is a win for seafood processors, fishermen, consumers, and, ultimately, healthy and productive oceans.”
HB 1200 addresses seafood mislabeling in several ways:
First, it requires that any fresh, frozen, or processed fish and shellfish be labeled by the common name (as defined by the Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, or as provided in the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines) so buyers can make an informed purchasing decision.
Second, the bill specifically addresses halibut mislabeling, requiring that only Atlantic halibut and Pacific halibut can be labeled as “halibut.” Many lower value species of flatfish are often labeled and sold as halibut, including species such as blueline tilefish. The Food and Drug administration warns pregnant or breastfeeding women against eating tilefish due to high mercury levels, so blueline tilefish mislabeled as halibut is a particularly dangerous example of seafood fraud, and one that puts the most vulnerable consumers at risk.
Finally, HB 1200 requires that salmon species be labeled by their scientific or accepted common names. This is particularly important in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, where consumers face the possibility of farmed Atlantic salmon being substituted for species of wild-caught Pacific salmon.
HB 1200, which passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously, is an admirable first step in the fight to end seafood fraud. As Sheard explained, “Americans deserve to know more about the seafood they purchase and HB 1200 will begin to fill the gap in public awareness on this critical economic, environmental, and health issue.”
We applaud the state of Washington for its efforts, and urge the other 49 states to follow Washington’s good example, so consumers in the U.S. can know just what’s on their plate.