When you go to a restaurant and think you’re ordering a white tuna or filet of wild-caught salmon, there’s a good chance the fish on your dinner plate is not what it seems. Numerous studies have uncovered that seafood fraud—the dishonest practice of swapping one type of seafood for another—occurs on a global scale in all steps of the seafood supply chain. Seafood fraud studies have been undertaken in 29 countries and on all continents except Antarctica, and every study have uncovered seafood fraud to some degree.
A new study conducted by Oceana, the Danish newspaper Søndagsavisen, and the TV program “Go’Aften Denmark” found that there is a high level of sea fraud in Danish markets. The study revealed that 18 percent of cod sold in fishmongers is not cod, but actually haddock or saithe. In total, 120 samples from fishmongers, supermarkets, and restaurants in the wider Copenhagen region underwent DNA analysis.
Late last month, the public comment period closed on the President’s Task Force on Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud. During the comment period, the Task Force held four public meetings: two webinars and two in-person meetings, one in Seattle, Washington, and one in Washington, D.C. Oceana provided comments at both in-person meetings and submitted written comments as well.
Each month, The Beacon features one Oceana staff member, highlighting their role at Oceana and personal history with the oceans. The month’s spotlight is on Oceana’s seafood fraud senior campaign director, Beth Lowell. Take a look below to learn more, and check out previous staff spotlights here.
In a move that will help to turn the tide on seafood fraud, the California legislature passed a bill (SB 1138) late last Friday evening that will help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions for their health and for the health of our oceans. The Senate passed the bill in a vote of 25-10, directly following passage off the Assembly floor in a vote of 57-15.
It turns out Oceana isn’t the only one looking into seafood fraud; just this week, a huge seafood fraud bust in Florida was announced. And thanks to President Obama’s pledge to tackle the issue, we may see additional efforts to stop seafood fraud and illegal fishing in the future.
By Leah Powley
Seafood fraud in the Mid-Atlantic region is causing new concern among area watermen and their Congressional representatives. According to crab fishermen in Maryland and Virginia, imported crabmeat is being packaged in the United States, relabeled, and then sold as a “product of the U.S.” This mislabeling—illegal under U.S. law—has gathered attention from the area’s Congressional representatives, who are calling on President Obama to address this seafood fraud.
How would you feel if you found out the red snapper on your plate wasn’t red snapper at all, but instead something illegally fished or potentially unhealthy? A new Oceana study found that 31% of seafood we tested in South Florida is mislabeled, keeping consumers in the dark about what they’re really eating.
Our campaigners used DNA testing on seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas. We’ve conducted studies like this in other cities, and the results from Los Angeles and Boston were even more striking—55% of seafood in L.A. was mislabeled and 48% in Boston.
But just because the numbers are lower in South Florida doesn’t mean that seafood fraud is any more acceptable. Some of the fish being served under a different name pose risks to health and sustainability. The study found that king mackerel, a high mercury fish with a health warning for sensitive groups, was being marketed as ‘grouper.’
Sushi restaurants were the biggest offenders, with 58% of samples found to be mislabeled. All the samples of white tuna collected from sushi vendors were actually escolar, a fish species that can make people sick.
The large amount of seafood coming into the U.S. market can make it difficult to trace each item to its source. Oceana is calling on the federal government to ensure that the seafood we find in our markets is safe, legal, and honestly labeled. By implementing a traceability system, consumers can make informed decisions about what they put on their plate.
Sign the petition to fight seafood fraud and ensure you’re getting what you order.
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:
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.’’