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
New York state is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast, but if a new bill passes, this fact could be history.
This trade is driven by a demand for shark fin soup, which can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sadly, shark numbers are dropping worldwide due to relentless fishing for fins, and in many places sharks have their fins cut off while still alive (a cruel practice called â€śfinningâ€ť). Finning is illegal in the United States, but the demand for fins in New York and elsewhere in the US add to the pressure. Imported fins can come from countries with less regulations, and many shark populations in the US are dropping dangerously low, with some hammerhead populations falling as much as 98%.
But New York is considering a bill that would ban the trade of shark fins within the state, and weâ€™re so excited to announce that itâ€™s moving forward! After a huge push by Oceana and other shark supporters, which included thousands of your signatures and personal pleas from Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones, both the Senate and Assembly committees passed the bill. Now itâ€™s up for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But the New York legislation session ends this week, which means they have to act soon.
Weâ€™re still gathering signatures to send to New York legislatures. Please sign today and pass the petition along to your friends. The worldâ€™s sharks need you.
Editorâ€™s note: With two days until the launch of the 2012 Ocean Heroes Awards, we have a guest post today from Robin Culler â€“ one of the founders of the Shark Finatics (Junior Award winners, 2010) from the Green Chimneys School in Brewster, NY.
Hello Oceana, itâ€™s been two years since the Shark Finatics were honored to be named Junior Ocean Heroes and now weâ€™re busier than ever. In the past few months, the Finatics have been involved in a few projects:
- When we heard that two sisters had opened a restaurant in Brooklyn and were serving shark burgers, the kids got fired up. They all wrote letters and drew pictures, pleading them to stop and keep the sharks in the oceans. One boy, totally on his own, got his mom to take him to the restaurant so that he could have a heart-to-heart conversation with one of the sisters! I was thrilled!
- I took the kids to the aquarium the other month to see the Sand Tigers there. It was really fun as some kids had never even been to an aquarium before. They loved it! One of the reasons we went was that we were invited to submit a project for an art exhibit in White Plains, NY. It is on the fish around Westchester, in the Hudson and the Long Island Sound. Since the Sand Tiger is in the Sound, we created a wonderful portfolio on all aspects of this shark (her name is Shirowani), including text and pictures. We also created a wonderful shark from soda bottles, foil, cardboard, and lots of duct tape and it will all be on display to the public all summer long.
- I just recently held two workshops at a large conference for educators on the Finatics program. It was so cool having everyone hanging on every word, hearing about how we got started and how we grew. It really is a wonderful story.
As you can tell, we are never without projects to work on! We next have to concentrate, big time, on the shark fin bill in NY. We will be writing letters, getting a petition together, making phone calls, and maybe a trip to legislator offices.
So, long story short, we are thrilled to be staying busy and look forward to seeing who will be the next Ocean Heroes in 2012.
-You can support Oceanaâ€™s and the Finaticsâ€™ effort to ban the trade of shark fins in New York state by signing our petition: http://act.oceana.org/letter/l-ny-shark/
-To learn more about the Green Chimneyâ€™s School, please go to http://www.greenchimneys.org/
-Donâ€™t forget to come back to Oceana's website on June 6 to nominate a 2012 Ocean Hero
How did you celebrate World Oceans Day? Oceana headed straight to the river. Teaming up with Nautica, we braved the heat and skimmed trash out of the Hudson River in an effort to protect both the riverâ€™s natural beauty and the health of its marine life.
What did we find? Fewer cigarette butts than you might think, but plenty of bags, bottle caps and other plastic debris â€“ just the types of trash that are most dangerous to fish and other aquatic life that may end up ingesting or becoming entangled in the plastic.
If you missed World Oceans Day, donâ€™t worry! You can still pledge to be an ocean hero throughout the summer by committing to cleaning up your local waterway, eating sustainable seafood, or recycling.
Itâ€™s been one year since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, but the explosion and subsequent months-long spill has largely faded from public consciousness. And if people do think about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, they think about it happening â€śsomewhere else,â€ť to â€śsomeone elseâ€™sâ€ť community, and not really affecting their daily lives.
To mark the one-year anniversary since the worst environmental disaster in our nationâ€™s history, Oceana is asking the question: â€śWhat If It Happened Here?â€ť What if the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and spill happened at a well-known and easily recognizable place in America? Would we still be chanting, â€śDrill, baby, drill?â€ť
To try to personalize this message for people we created an ad campaign on display now in the Washington, D.C. Metro system that depicts the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion happening at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., the New York Harbor, and the San Francisco Bay.
We hope that by asking the question, â€śWhat If It Happened Here?â€ť we will get people to think about how they would be affected, and how their communities would be affected, if the BP oil spill happened off their coasts. We hope these ads will help people realize that we need to stop the drill.
Okay, so stop me if you've heard this oneâ€¦
What happens when four top NGOs team up with a world renowned art dealer for Earth Day?
You get an unprecedented partnership that culminates in Christieâ€™s First Annual Green Auction: A Bid to Save the Earth. Wait, did you think I was telling a joke?
Oceana, along with Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservation International and The Central Park Conservancy, NBC Universal, Barneyâ€™s of New York, Deutsche Bank and Target have been working to put together the April 22 auction that takes place at Christieâ€™s in Rockefeller Center in New York as part of the 40th celebration of Earth Day.
Christieâ€™s is waiving its usual fees, so every penny from the live auction and silent auction goes to the four charities. A ton, and I mean a ton, of amazing artwork and items are up for bid the night of the event, but you donâ€™t have to be at the event to make a bid to save the earth.
Today the online silent auction launches and along with the artwork and items up for bid there are a boat-load (pun most definitely intended) of experiences on the block including swimming lessons with Oceana supporter and gold medalist Aaron Peirsol (with a $5,000 bid as of 10 a.m. this morning) and sailing lessons with Ocean Conservation Yacht Club Commodore Kristen â€śThe Americaâ€ť Berry.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Team Oceana ended its inaugural triathlon season last month in Malibu, but there's already plenty of buzz building up to 2010. For starters, we have two athletes from Southern California, Steven and Merrie Regalado, who want to complete the entire Nautica series next year. Steven and Merrie raced twice in the last month alone and will compete in an Ironman 70.3 in Austin this upcoming weekend - that's a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run!
For the 2010 Nautica New York City Triathlon, we already have two spots spoken for by a pair of ocean-loving volunteers from the 2009 event and OCYC Commodore Kristen Berry will likely want to head back to New York to conquer the Hudson again. For South Beach, we hope our two athletes from last spring return for next April's race, but they better bring some friends because we want to grow that team by 10-15 people. The rumors around here are that Oceana Executive Vice President Jim Simon may spend this winter conditioning so he can be one of those new team members in South Beach.