Oceana’s senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield sat down with 20/20 to discuss the widespread problem of seafood fraud (skip to around 3:30 in the video). He gives a stark example of the problem.
“If you go to Los Angeles and eat red snapper everyday for the next 30 days you will never see red snapper,” he says.
Not only does seafood fraud affect consumers' pocketbooks (inferior fish are often labeled as more expensive fish and drastically marked up) but it can be dangerous as well. As ABC found in their own investigation, 86% of sushi labeled as white tuna around the country was, in fact, escolar, a fish whose high content of waxy esters can cause "intestinal distress", to put it politely. The results echo Oceana's own investigations of seafood markets and restaurants in Boston, L.A. and Miami which found the problem of fraud to be widespread.
ABC also spoke with Oceana supporter, chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver.
"40,000 fish of copper river salmon were sold last year," he says. "Well, sorry, only 12,000 fish were caught in Copper River last year."
Seaver admits that even chefs of his caliber are vulnerable to the tricks of deceptive marketing, as he describes his recent experience being duped into buying inferior asian crab meat marketed as Maryland blue crab. One of the major problems, he says, is that the country imports more than 85% of its fish but the FDA inspects less than 2% of it. It's why over 500 chefs signed a letter calling for full traceability of seafood sold in the U.S. and why in July, Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act (H.R. 6200). The legislation requires that all seafood sold in the U.S. be fully traceable. Oceana is currently building support in Congress for this important bill. Show you care about what's on your plate and sign our petition.
Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set catch limits under the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act amendments for all covered species, a major triumph for fisheries management.
The Environmental Forum asked the leading voices in fisheries management, “Is the 2006 law succeeding in restoring fish stocks? Are adjustments needed to ensure robust stocks and sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries in the future?” Here’s an excerpt of the response by Mike Hirshfield. Oceana’s Senior Vice President for North America, and Chief Scientist. He is currently on sabbatical; you can read about his travels at his blog.
The United States is fortunate to have a law designed to keep abundant fish populations in the ocean. All ocean lovers, including commercial and recreational fishermen, should celebrate the passage of the 2006 amendments to that law. If they are carried out fully, we will definitely see increased fish populations in future years. Our fishery management system is one of the best in the world, certainly compared to places like Europe. But before we pat ourselves on the back too much, we need to take a clear-eyed look at what the amendments did — and didn’t — do, as well as the way the National Marine Fisheries Service is implementing the law. Some problem areas are indicated below by italics.
The amendments only addressed part of the problem. Fisheries management comes down to three principles: First, don’t kill more fish than can be replenished. Second, don’t kill too many other animals. And third, don’t wreck the places fish need to live. The 2006 amendments really only dealt with the first.
The amendments came 10 years too late for some species. Conservationists thought the 1996 amendments required an end to overfishing. We were wrong. Unfortunately, for some species, the additional decade meant ten more years of declining populations. For long-lived, slow-growing species like Atlantic halibut, some sharks, and Pacific rockfish, the extra overfishing means their populations won’t rebuild for decades — if ever.
Too many species are “off the books.” Several hundred species of fish caught by fishermen are not included in fishery management plans, so managers don’t consider them subject to the accountability requirements of the 2006 amendments. Managers have even removed species from plans to avoid the obligation. Species subject to international management are exempt from the requirements, even if overfished, like Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Too many species may fail to rebuild. Many rebuilding plans are designed with little better than a 50 percent chance of success — meaning they are nearly as likely to fail. Even an 80 percent chance of success means 20 of 100 such plans will fail. We may not always have all the science we would like, but it needs to be taken seriously, with the tie going to the fish. We need more safety margin, not less.
The bare minimum is the target. “Not overfished” and “preventing overfishing” are weak standards of success, leaving too many populations at risk. Fish stocks will face increased threats from a changing climate. We need to hedge our bets with larger fish populations, not the bare minimum.
You can read the full piece at The Environmental Forum.
ABC World News spotlighted Oceana’s new seafood fraud report “Bait and Switch”, including a cameo by Dr. Mike Hirshfield, Oceana’s senior vice president and chief scientist:
Today’s New York Times features a great story about seafood fraud -- and guess whose report is front and center?
That’s right, Oceana’s new report, “Bait and Switch” forms the core of the article, and our chief scientist Mike Hirshfield has several excellent quotes, including the following, which was the “Quote of the Day” in the NYT’s e-mail news digest:
“If you’re ordering steak, you would never be served horse meat,” said Dr. Hirshfield of Oceana. “But you can easily be ordering snapper and get tilapia or Vietnamese catfish.”
It’s great to see that seafood fraud is getting so much attention, and we’re hopeful that it means there’s change on the horizon -- you can take action right now by telling the FDA that our seafood needs to be safe, legal, and honestly labeled.
Read the full article in the Times and please pass it on!
Senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor is back on board the Latitude after a short hiatus on land, and he’s here to tell you about the latest leg of the expedition in the “Alabama Alps,” an ecologically rich reef in the Gulf of Mexico. More on that below in the video with our chief scientist, Mike Hirshfield.
Thursday, September 9
As Will Race and the rest of our Alaskan colleagues headed back to Juneau this week, a new crew was making its way to Gulfport, Mississippi to board the Oceana Latitude.
Our next mission? Documenting seafloor habitat areas along the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico that may have been harmed by underwater oil.
During this leg, Spanish ROV operators Jose Manuel Saez and Josep Fleta will use a device to reach depths of approximately 1,500 feet and film in high-definition.
The Oceana Latitude also welcomed support divers Thierry Lannoy (France) and Jesus Molino (Spain), as well as Maribel Lopez from Oceana’s Madrid office. Dr. Michael Hirshfield has also returned to the ship. Here he is talking about this leg of the expedition:
I’m happy to report that the Oceana Latitude officially set sail yesterday evening for the Gulf of Mexico out of Fort Lauderdale!
The first stop will be Key West, where the Oceana crew will work with the ROV and specialized divers to document bottom habitat and other marine life that could be in danger if oil is captured by sea currents and transported towards southern Florida or if another oil spill occurs in this area in the future.
Here’s Oceana chief scientist Mike Hirshfield:
Yesterday Oceana Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist Mike Hirshfield testified about the costs of offshore drilling before the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Here’s an excerpt of his testimony:
“Mr. Chairman, I wish you didn’t have to hold this hearing. For years, the oil industry has told us all that offshore drilling was safe. They repeatedly downplayed the risks and oversold the benefits. They tried to convince us that catastrophes like the Deepwater Drilling Disaster could never happen. I could easily fill my time with embarrassing industry quotes (like these.) I will spare you that.
We now hear calls for action to ensure that “this will never happen again.” We all wish that could be the case. But let’s be honest, we know another offshore oil drilling disaster will happen, caused by another unexpected combination of technological failure and human error. The industry is asking us to play a game of environmental roulette, and they are taking aim at a long list of targets. Will we see oil foul the beaches of the Atlantic seaboard next? The Pacific? The Arctic?
Breaking news this morning: A Coast Guard official says the “top kill” maneuver has stopped the oil leak that has been gushing into the gulf for more than a month, though engineers still have to seal the well permanently with cement before they deem it a success.
And more good news -- President Obama will announce today that he is extending the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells for six more months.
Meanwhile, this morning Oceana Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist Mike Hirshfield will testify about the costs of offshore drilling before the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Hirshfield says, “The scientific consensus is unless we change how we manage our fish, we’re looking at potential collapses around the world later this century... It might only be a slight exaggeration to say that in 2100, unless we change how we manage our oceans, all we’ll have left is jellyfish.”
Stay tuned for more Copenhagen updates as the conference progresses.