The Beacon

California Legislature Passes Seafood Labeling Bill in Big Move for Tackling Seafood Fraud

California Legislature passed SB 1138 to begin to tackle seafood fraud and increase honest seafood labeling. (Photo: Oceana / Jenn Hueting)

In a move that will help to turn the tide on seafood fraud, the California legislature passed a bill (SB 1138) late last Friday evening that will help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions for their health and for the health of our oceans. The Senate passed the bill in a vote of 25-10, directly following passage off the Assembly floor in a vote of 57-15. SB 1138, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), will begin to tackle the complex problem of seafood fraud in the Golden State by requiring all fish and shellfish are accurately labeled by common name, as well as requiring that wholesalers and processors label whether a species was wild-caught or farm-raised and domestically caught or imported.

“SB 1138 addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling. To protect our health, oceans, and economy it is essential that seafood be labeled accurately,” Senator Alex Padilla said in a press release. "The seafood we order should be the seafood we are served.”

Oceana appreciates the steadfast and dedicated leadership of Senator Padilla to tackle seafood mislabeling in the state and applauds the California legislature for their overwhelming bipartisan support. SB 1138 has been sent to California Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration to sign into law.

Americans are routinely urged to eat more seafood as part of a healthy diet, but the seafood they purchase often has inadequate, confusing, or misleading information. With more than 1,700 different species of seafood from around the world available for sale in the U.S., it’s difficult for American consumers to independently and accurately determine what they are actually eating unless it is clearly labeled.

“Many seafood businesses already provide this information, so this legislation will help level the playing field, while building consumer confidence in seafood,” Oceana California Campaign Director Geoff Shester said in the press release.

Oceana, the lead sponsor of the bill, conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations worldwide between 2010 and 2012 by collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues across 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third of the samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled. Alarmingly, California fared among the worst in the nation with 38 percent of seafood tested in Northern California mislabeled and 52 percent of seafood tested in Southern California mislabeled. Oceana also conducted a small sampling study in Monterey finding 36 percent seafood fraud.

“This is a win-win for public health and ocean health,” Oceana Pacific policy and communications manager Ashley Blacow said in the release. “Californians need Governor Brown to sign SB 1138 into law so consumers are empowered with the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision.”

SB 1138 passed the Senate unanimously in May, but additional provisions were since added to the bill to provide consumers with more specific information. The legislation went back to the Senate last Friday for a concurrence vote. The bill has a wide range of support from seafood businesses, Los Angeles County, and conservation organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Oceana has won several victories in tackling seafood fraud. In June, Oceana launched an interactive map—the first of its kind—that showed the international reach of seafood fraud. That same month, President Obama vowed to tackle seafood fraud and mislabeling at the Our Ocean conference, and has designated a Task Force to work on the issue. You can learn more about Oceana’s work to ensure that seafood is honestly caught and labeled here.


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