Do you know what you are serving your family tonight? If itâ€™s fish thereâ€™s a good chance that you donâ€™t.
Today Oceana unveiled its landmark national seafood fraud report, one of the largest of its kind and one that should make consumers sit up and demand change.
Over the past several years Oceana tested 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. DNA testing confirmed that fully one-third of this seafood was mislabeledâ€”that is, what we ordered wasnâ€™t what we got.
No matter where you live, seafood fraud is likely to be an issue. But if you live in Austin, Houston or Boston, it is especially widespread. According to our investigation, almost half of the fish tested in these cities was mislabeled. In Southern California the problem was even worse, with mislabeled fish accounting for more than half (52%) of the seafood we tested! Elsewhere, rates of mislabeling were found to be 39 percent in New York City, 38 percent in Northern California and South Florida, 36 percent in Denver, 35 percent in Kansas City, 32 percent in Chicago, 26 percent in Washington, D.C., 21 percent in Portland and 18 percent in Seattle. Nationwide, sushi restaurants mislabeled their fish 74 percent of the time.
As one of our scientists told me, these findings are disturbingâ€”and theyâ€™re disturbing for a few reasons. Not only can seafood fraud rip you off by making you pay more for less expensive fish but it can actually be bad for your health. Our scientists found that some fish that had landed a spot on the FDAâ€™s â€śDO NOT EATâ€ť list for sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of its high mercury content was nonetheless being substituted for safer fish. In New York this meant tilefish disguised as red snapper and halibut, while in South Florida king mackerel became grouper. Elsewhere escolar, an oily fish that is known for its purgative effects in some consumers, was substituted 84% of the time for white tuna
If that wasnâ€™t bad enough, mislabeling can be harmful to the oceans as well. By disguising one species as another, it can be nearly impossible for consumers to make responsible decisions to avoid eating overfished species.
So what can you do about it? Right now the United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes, but the FDA inspects less than one percent of that seafood specifically for fraud. Obviously this needs to change and we need to call upon our lawmakers to ensure full traceability for all seafood sold in the country. Oceana is hard at work behind the scenes to make this happen. In the meantime, if you donâ€™t want to be duped by seafood fraud you can start by asking where and how your seafood was caught, be wary of fish that seems cheaper than it should and, when possible, buy fish whole.
Seafood is one of the healthiest sources of protein on the planet and should be a part of any healthy diet, but we need to know that what weâ€™re buying is what the label says it isâ€”for the good of our health, our wallets and our oceans.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana
The next time youâ€™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, Oceanaâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 fishâ€™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.
Wouldnâ€™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.
This is the third in a series of posts about this yearâ€™s Ocean Hero finalists.
Laura Medrano is a mental health professional who helps inner-city adolescents in Boston through Dive Kulture, the first program in the nation to offer scuba certification in conjunction with environmental summer jobs.
The youths she helps are at risk of violence, abuse and neglect and many already have a criminal record, Laura told me. Through Dive Kulture, she uses scuba diving as a therapeutic mental health treatment. The students learn how to breathe more slowly through scuba, which helps them calm down and think more clearly in difficult situations.
Plus, for many of Laura's students, itâ€™s their first time in the ocean -- she helps them connect to the marine environment in their backyard. Some of them, she says, didn't know the ocean was salty before joining Dive Kulture.