Can you trust that the seafood you bought is actually what it claims to be? In a new report titled, “Fishy Business: Do You Know What You Are Really Eating?” Oceana explains how seafood mislabeling and species substitution can have dangerous consequences for public health and ocean ecosystems.
Seafood fraud is more common than people think. Seafood takes a long journey from the ocean to your plate, with plenty of opportunities for fishermen and merchants to fudge the truth—and very little in the way to stop them.
Some expensive fish are switched out for more common varieties. Seafood may be weighted down with ice, meaning you’re paying for more than what you get. And fish caught unsustainably may be falsely labeled as an eco-friendly option, which means even careful consumers could still be funding unsustainable fishing.
The FDA only inspects 2% of imported seafood, but up to 70% of seafood may be mislabeled in some manner. Obviously, the FDA needs to make seafood a priority. “Consumers have a right to know what they are eating and where it came from. Yet, frankly, customers are being ripped off,” said Oceana’s Beth Lowell. “Fraud of any kind is wrong, illegal and must be stopped.”
Eating dinner shouldn’t be a guessing game. Today, the House is considering the FDA’s 2013 budget, and we’re calling on them to pay attention to seafood.
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!
The next time you’re in the Boston area and craving some fresh Atlantic cod, beware. You might end up purchasing a completely different fish.
According to a new report released today, Oceana’s intrepid seafood fraud team found that fish shoppers are getting swindled in Boston-area supermarkets. Of the 88 fish samples that Oceana sent in for DNA testing, 16 were mislabeled – nearly one in five.
This spring, Oceana targeted 15 supermarkets in the Boston area and attempted to purchase two (frozen or fresh) fish fillets of three commonly mislabeled species – red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod. When these species were not available, other fish species were selected, such as grey sole and vermilion snapper.
The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada analyzed the samples using a DNA barcoding system, comparing the fish’s DNA sequence to a catalogue of more than 8,000 fish species that have been barcoded as part of their Fish Barcode of Life initiative. Our campaigners also found that Atlantic cod was the most commonly mislabeled fish species and overfished red snapper was often sold as vermilion snapper.
Our testing results show the need for improved measures to combat seafood fraud and improve fish traceability. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority, including implementing existing laws, increasing inspections, and improving coordination and information sharing among federal agencies.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know when, where, and how your fish is caught? We think you should be able to make informed decisions about your seafood.
Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing, and health. Today we’ll be focusing on seafood fraud.
Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about seafood and its origins for financial profit—and it happens as to as much as 70 percent of some types of fish.
Fraudulent information can include where and how the fish was caught, or even what kind of fish it is. Seafood producers can benefit from fraud by labeling cheaper fish as a more expensive kind or by covering up illegal fishing practices that would otherwise make their fish impossible to sell.
But seafood fraud hurts consumers, and not just by ripping them off. People with seafood allergies could unknowingly eat fish that gives them a nasty reaction. Fraudulent fish can be tropical species with a disease called ciguatera, which can cause serious symptoms like pain, nausea, cramps, and reversed temperature sensations.
And seafood fraud wreaks havoc on conservation efforts. Mislabeling allows endangered species into the market and can hide fishing methods that hurt and kill other marine life, like sea turtles and dolphins.
How can you avoid being a victim of seafood fraud? Processed fish is more likely to be fraudulent, so look for packages with the most detailed information about when, where, and how fish were caught. Whole fish are more difficult to disguise than fillets—take our online seafood fraud quiz to learn how similar fillets can look.
We’re working every day to reduce seafood fraud, and you can help by asking your senator to pass legislation to curb seafood fraud.
The new issue of Oceana magazine is hot off the press! In this issue, you’ll learn about our latest news and victories, and lots more, including:
*Profiles of our 2011 Ocean Heroes, shark-loving Sophi Bromenshenkel and sea lion-rescuing Peter Wallerstein
*A thought-provoking Q&A with environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
*The lowdown on our new campaign to combat Seafood Fraud
*A report on this summer’s expedition in the icy Baltic Sea
*Photos from our recent events: Hamptons Splash, Christie’s Green Auction and World Oceans Day
Check it out and pass it on!
Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the latest trends in seafood traceability.
One of the oldest tricks in the fishmonger’s book is trotting out the notion that the cod, snapper, flounder or mahi mahi that you are about to be served is “fresh today.”
In too many cases that translates as the fish just arrived in the supermarket or restaurant that morning by truck or plane from some distant place. The reality of course is that most likely it was plucked from a farm or raised in nets from the sea many, many weeks before. I once sat in a salmon broker’s office at a fish farm in the south of Chile while she waited for higher prices, as, the fish she was selling were sitting on ice in a 747 on a runway in Santiago, waiting, ultimately for days, to be delivered.
Thanks to some novel and enterprising partnerships between fishermen and chefs around the sea borders of the U.S. - literally from Maine to Alaska - some restaurants and fish sellers are now guaranteeing that the fish on your plate was swimming free just hours before.
This is part of a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”
Have you ever asked yourself, “Where does my seafood come from?” It's not as easy to figure out as you might think. Eighty-four percent of seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported, and it follows an increasingly complex path from the fishing boat to our plates, as today’s infographic illustrates:
Here are the steps your fish may take before it gets to you:
Step 1: All of the seafood sold in the U.S. is either caught by fishing vessels or raised in aquaculture facilities. Fish and shellfish are put on ice or flash-frozen on board the vessel or at the aquaculture facility.
Have you eaten any seafood yet this summer? If the answer is yes, do you know where it came from?
We recently launched a new campaign to combat seafood fraud, a practice that often misleads consumers about the seafood they purchase in order to increase profits. Recent studies have shown that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish such as red snapper and wild salmon. Fish fraud not only hurts our wallets, but marine conservation and human health as well.
But don’t just take my word for it. In a few short weeks, you’ll have the chance to test your own seafood IQ at our second major East Coast event, Oceana’s 2011 Hamptons Splash party, which takes place July 30th at a private beachfront estate in Southampton, New York. Test your seafood savvy with a blind taste test and a seafood pop quiz. You might be surprised how easy it is to be duped.
After you’re done tasting, sit back and listen as Oceana board member Ted Danson reads from his new book “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them,” and enjoy musical entertainment provided by the Honey Brothers, featuring Oceana Ambassador Adrian Grenier.
Events like the Hamptons Splash party play a crucial role in our fundraising efforts, enabling us to launch new campaigns like seafood fraud. In short, they help us to continue winning victories on behalf of the oceans.
Even if you are unable to attend, you can still support us by visiting the event’s online auction, hosted by charitybuzz, which features artwork, travel opportunities and more, all benefiting our work. I urge you to visit the auction anytime today through Tuesday, August 2nd.
Best of luck bidding -- and tasting -- and thank you for supporting Oceana and Hamptons Splash.
Today’s CBS Early Show featured a segment about seafood fraud, and they spoke with Oceana marine scientist Margot Stiles, one of the authors of our new “Bait and Switch” report. They even went on a field trip to the Washington, DC fish market, check it out: