Blog Tags: Seafood Fraud
We have finally made it -- Last night Oceana’s new Los Angeles seafood fraud report was featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Ever-angry Lewis Black responded to the report: “Snapper, tilapia, who gives a S#@*? That’s what the ketchup’s for!”
Well, not quite the message we were going for with the report, but pretty funny nonetheless.
With the help of sustainable seafood guides such as Seafood Watch, we can make informed decisions about what type of seafood to buy based on mercury levels, the type of fishing gear used, and the health of the fishery.
But those guides are undermined if the fish itself is mislabeled. Oceana recently uncovered through DNA testing that in Los Angeles County, 55% of commonly swapped seafood was indeed labeled incorrectly.
This means that we may only be getting the fish we ordered half the time. Seafood fraud is unfair to consumers who may be faced with health risks from consuming seafood with higher contaminant levels, or who are paying more for a less desirable substitute. We should be empowered to consume seafood we think is best for our health and we have the right to be served the seafood we are paying for.
The frustrating part is that there is little oversight on the long journey seafood takes from the ocean to our plate -- from transport to processing, to labeling, to shipping, and finally to grocery stores or restaurants. This extensive journey with little oversight and labeling leaves plenty of room for key information to be lost and for fraud to occur.
So what can be done about seafood fraud?
California is taking a step forward to begin tackling this problem at the state level through new legislation. Senator Ted Lieu introduced Senate Bill 1486, sponsored by Oceana, to require labeling of seafood at large chain restaurants (with 19 or more facilities).
If the bill passes and is signed into law by Governor Brown, chain restaurants will be required to provide information on seafood items ordered including what the species of seafood is; in what country it was caught; and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. So rather than just seeing “Fish sandwich” on the menu, customers will have the information needed to make informed decisions based on health, sustainability, and buying local.
The Senate Health Committee passed the bill at the end of the day yesterday. A huge thanks to the more than 5,000 Oceana Wavemakers in California who weighed in support of this bill with their legislators!
Despite trying to make the best eco-conscious decision, we are being swindled and deceived. Not only is it unjust to consumers, but to the environment and to those fishermen using more responsible practices.
We’ll keep you posted as this legislation progresses, and thanks again for your support.
Something’s fishy in Los Angeles.
That’s according to our new report, which found widespread seafood mislabeling in the LA-area. DNA testing confirms that 55 percent of the seafood our campaigners sampled was mislabeled based on federal law.
In May and December of 2011, Oceana staff and supporters collected 119 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The targeted species included those that were found to be mislabeled in previous studies as well as those with regional significance such as wild salmon, Dover or other regional soles, red snapper, yellowtail and white tuna.
Among the report’s other key findings include:
- Fraud was detected in 11 out of 18 different types of fish purchased.
- Every single fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label (34 out of 34) was mislabeled, according to federal guidelines.
- Nearly nine out of every ten sushi samples was mislabeled.
- Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as “white tuna” were actually escolar, a species that carries a health warning for it laxative effects.
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.
- Ocean Roundup: Fiddler Crabs Found Far North of Their Range, 500 Dead Sea Lions Discovered in Peru, and More Posted Tue, November 25, 2014
- Sea Turtles Can Get the Bends after Capture in Fishing Gear, Says New Study Posted Tue, November 25, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Dolphins Use Whistles as Names, Conservationists Call for Removal of Queensland Shark Nets, and More Posted Mon, November 24, 2014
- ICCAT Moves to Properly Manage Bluefin Tuna, but Doesn’t Take Action for Sharks and Swordfish Posted Wed, November 26, 2014
- Oceana in Chile Submits Recommendations for Lowering Common Hake Catch Quotas Posted Mon, November 24, 2014