Oceana would like to thank Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) for becoming the new House lead sponsor of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, a bill that would require full traceability throughout the U.S. seafood supply chain, giving consumers access to more information about where their seafood comes from and helping to keep illegally-caught fish out of our markets. The bill has earned the support of numerous chefs and restaurant owners, consumers, fishermen, seafood businesses, and environmental groups, and we are optimistic about its chances for passage this Congress.
Following the publication of a story in the Boston Globe about pervasive seafood mislabeling in the region, former Representative – now Senator – Edward Markey (D-MA) originally introduced the SAFE Seafood Act last year. The legislation was reintroduced in both the House and Senate this March, following the release of a report by Oceana that found widespread seafood fraud across the nation. Out of the more than 1,200 fish samples Oceana collected from restaurants, supermarkets and sushi bars in 21 states, 33 percent – one in three – were found to be mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
Seafood fraud can occur anywhere along the supply chain, causing problems for honest fishermen, suppliers, retailers, and consumers alike. Dishonest fishermen may launder their illegally-caught product into the U.S. market, putting responsible fishermen at a competitive disadvantage. Suppliers and retailers may not be able to verify the species or origins of the products they buy or sell. And when mislabeled products reach consumers, they may unknowingly eat fish with high levels of toxins like mercury – something that vulnerable populations are told by the FDA to avoid – and they may be cheated into paying high prices for lower-quality less expensive or illegally-caught seafood. Oceana recently released a follow-up study to our national report that concluded that consumers who eat mislabeled seafood just once a week could be losing up to hundreds of dollars a year. Regardless of where the fraud is happening, its effects can be felt throughout the supply chain.
Unfortunately, the U.S. today is a prime market for seafood fraud. We are among the highest seafood-consuming nations in the world, and we import roughly 90 percent of the seafood we eat. Less than two percent of these imports are inspected at the border, however, and virtually none of that is inspected for fraud. Without full-chain traceability to provide more transparency about the path a fish takes from boat to plate, it is difficult to ensure that our seafood is really safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.
The SAFE Seafood Act will go a long way to addressing these problems and protecting consumers, honest fishermen and our oceans. In addition to requiring traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S., it would also strengthen government efforts to fight seafood fraud by improving interagency coordination, allowing for increased inspections, and standardizing the names under which seafood can be sold. Oceana appreciates Representative Capps’ leadership on this in the House and we look forward to working with her and our allies in the Senate to move the bill this Congress.