On Wednesday afternoon, the state of Massachusetts became a national leader in the fight against mislabeled seafood with a clear message: with an abundance of local seafood, there is no place for mislabeled seafood in Massachusetts, and more must be done to combat this common problem and protect consumers and the fishing industry from fraud.
The Hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure provided a forum for representatives of the state Office of Consumer Protection, Department of Public Health and the Division of Marine Fisheries to update the committee on their efforts to respond to the issue, which was highlighted in a Boston Globe investigation and supported by separate research by Consumer Reports and Oceana.
Drawing on its research into the causes and solutions to this chronic problem, Oceana was among a group of industry and scientific representatives that provided testimony to the committee. Oceana offered new information and clear recommendations about solutions to ensure that all fish are accurately labeled and can be tracked back to their boat or farm of origin.
In response to the testimony provided to the committee, Representative Theodore C. Speliotis, co-chair of the committee, summarized: “It’s clear there has been no oversight on fish mislabeling – none. This hearing is really just the first step.’’
Consumer Reports is following the trend of recent exposes on fish fraud. In a new investigation, the magazine uncovered that one in five pieces of fish for sale are mislabeled.
The findings complement our own: Earlier this week, Oceana found a similar fraud rate in the Boston area, and in a separate Boston study, the Boston Globe found that almost half of tested fish samples were being sold under a false name.
Here’s what Consumer Reports discovered by doing DNA testing on fish samples from restaurants and grocery stores in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut:
- Out of 14 sampled fish species, only four were correctly identified every time
- 18 percent of samples were incorrectly labeled
- None of the 22 samples they took of “red snapper” could be positively identified, and half were found to be other species of fish
- One “grouper” sample was actually tilefish, which is known to contain levels of mercury that could be dangerous, especially to pregnant women
- Coho salmon masqueraded as more expensive king salmon
It’s easy for dishonest businesses to pull off fish fraud. Rules about labeling leave wiggle room, and hardly any seafood is inspected for fraud. Investigations like this one are crucial for raising awareness about the issue and making sure government officials know we care about what’s on our plates. After all, seafood fraud hurts our wallets, our health, and our oceans.
Oceana is calling on the government to stop seafood fraud by enforcing current laws, inspecting more fish, and making sure agencies work together to stop dishonest businesses from ripping consumers off. You can help by telling your Senators to fight seafood fraud!