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Oceana Magazine Fall 2011: CEO’s Note: Andy Sharpless on the Scourge of Seafood Fraud

“On the Menu, But Not on Your Plate,” is the three-column headline on the front page of the Boston Globe. In a recent series of reports titled Fishy Business, the paper’s five-month investigation uncovered widespread fraud in the seafood business.

Earlier this year, Oceana also tested fish sold in supermarket chains in the Boston area and found 18 percent of the species identified by DNA analysis were mislabeled.

Using genetic tests like those employed by Oceana, the Boston Globe “found fish bought at restaurants across the region was mislabeled about half the time.  Sometimes it was innocent error, but often the switch was deliberate, driven by profits.”

In the end, only 46 percent of the fish tested by the Globe was correctly labeled. Rampant seafood fraud is another blunt indicator of ocean collapse. As described in our report released earlier this year, Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health, popular species become expensive and rare as they are fished out. Suppliers respond by substituting available species, and don’t always alert the customer to the change.

As a supporter of Oceana, you know that we campaign to restore and protect abundant oceans so that they will feed future generations.  One of the ways we are doing that is by campaigning for traceability standards for seafood sold in the U.S. Traceability like that required in Europe will assure that what you’re eating is what you paid for.

It will also minimize the chances that you are eating illegally sourced seafood. Fish caught above allowed quota, with illegal gear, or in protected zones of the ocean are examples of illegal commercial fishing practices. And illegal, unregulated or unreported commercial fishing is big business. Estimates have it at more than 20 percent of all commercial fishing, worth an estimated $10-20 billion.

Since the U.S. imports more than 80 percent of its seafood, if you’re an American, you can be certain that some of that illegally sourced fish ends up on your plate. At the same time, the U.S.’s position as a big consumer of the world’s fish gives it huge leverage on the conduct of commercial fishing fleets around the globe. If the American government requires traceability, then it will be very difficult for illegally sourced fish to enter our supply chain. That is good news not only for American seafood lovers, but also for the long-term health of the oceans.

Our food supply is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has authority to do the job for seafood. It’s time they got to work.

Thank you for your support of Oceana. As we head into the final months of 2011, I hope that you will make a generous year end gift to support our campaigns. Oceana’s record of success is driven by the generosity you and other donors show us year after year. Thank you for your loyalty.

For the oceans,