Blog Tags: Seafood Fraud
The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee.
The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing. The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.
The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.
S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.
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.
Kinsey is best known for her role as the tightly-wound head of accounting on “The Office,” and she also appeared in a video for Oceana’s sea turtle campaign alongside Rachael Harris (“The Hangover.) Kinsey will be joined by sustainable chef and author Barton Seaver and Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. Their stops will include a briefing on Capitol Hill and a reception at National Aquarium.
Oceana has found mislabeling of nearly one in five fish fillets sampled in Boston-area supermarkets, as well as the mislabeling of more than half of the seafood sampled in the Los Angeles-area. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority as well as for traceability of seafood sold in the United States.
We have finally made it -- Last night Oceana’s new Los Angeles seafood fraud report was featured on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Ever-angry Lewis Black responded to the report: “Snapper, tilapia, who gives a S#@*? That’s what the ketchup’s for!”
Well, not quite the message we were going for with the report, but pretty funny nonetheless.
With the help of sustainable seafood guides such as Seafood Watch, we can make informed decisions about what type of seafood to buy based on mercury levels, the type of fishing gear used, and the health of the fishery.
But those guides are undermined if the fish itself is mislabeled. Oceana recently uncovered through DNA testing that in Los Angeles County, 55% of commonly swapped seafood was indeed labeled incorrectly.
This means that we may only be getting the fish we ordered half the time. Seafood fraud is unfair to consumers who may be faced with health risks from consuming seafood with higher contaminant levels, or who are paying more for a less desirable substitute. We should be empowered to consume seafood we think is best for our health and we have the right to be served the seafood we are paying for.
The frustrating part is that there is little oversight on the long journey seafood takes from the ocean to our plate -- from transport to processing, to labeling, to shipping, and finally to grocery stores or restaurants. This extensive journey with little oversight and labeling leaves plenty of room for key information to be lost and for fraud to occur.
So what can be done about seafood fraud?
California is taking a step forward to begin tackling this problem at the state level through new legislation. Senator Ted Lieu introduced Senate Bill 1486, sponsored by Oceana, to require labeling of seafood at large chain restaurants (with 19 or more facilities).
If the bill passes and is signed into law by Governor Brown, chain restaurants will be required to provide information on seafood items ordered including what the species of seafood is; in what country it was caught; and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. So rather than just seeing “Fish sandwich” on the menu, customers will have the information needed to make informed decisions based on health, sustainability, and buying local.
The Senate Health Committee passed the bill at the end of the day yesterday. A huge thanks to the more than 5,000 Oceana Wavemakers in California who weighed in support of this bill with their legislators!
Despite trying to make the best eco-conscious decision, we are being swindled and deceived. Not only is it unjust to consumers, but to the environment and to those fishermen using more responsible practices.
We’ll keep you posted as this legislation progresses, and thanks again for your support.
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:
- Fraud was detected in 11 out of 18 different types of fish purchased.
- Every single fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label (34 out of 34) was mislabeled, according to federal guidelines.
- Nearly nine out of every ten sushi samples was mislabeled.
- Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as “white tuna” were actually escolar, a species that carries a health warning for it laxative effects.
Can you trust that the seafood you bought is actually what it claims to be? In a new report titled, “Fishy Business: Do You Know What You Are Really Eating?” Oceana explains how seafood mislabeling and species substitution can have dangerous consequences for public health and ocean ecosystems.
Seafood fraud is more common than people think. Seafood takes a long journey from the ocean to your plate, with plenty of opportunities for fishermen and merchants to fudge the truth—and very little in the way to stop them.
Some expensive fish are switched out for more common varieties. Seafood may be weighted down with ice, meaning you’re paying for more than what you get. And fish caught unsustainably may be falsely labeled as an eco-friendly option, which means even careful consumers could still be funding unsustainable fishing.
The FDA only inspects 2% of imported seafood, but up to 70% of seafood may be mislabeled in some manner. Obviously, the FDA needs to make seafood a priority. “Consumers have a right to know what they are eating and where it came from. Yet, frankly, customers are being ripped off,” said Oceana’s Beth Lowell. “Fraud of any kind is wrong, illegal and must be stopped.”
Eating dinner shouldn’t be a guessing game. Today, the House is considering the FDA’s 2013 budget, and we’re calling on them to pay attention to seafood.
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.’’
Consumer Reports is following the trend of recent exposes on fish fraud. In a new investigation, the magazine uncovered that one in five pieces of fish for sale are mislabeled.
The findings complement our own: Earlier this week, Oceana found a similar fraud rate in the Boston area, and in a separate Boston study, the Boston Globe found that almost half of tested fish samples were being sold under a false name.
Here’s what Consumer Reports discovered by doing DNA testing on fish samples from restaurants and grocery stores in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut:
- Out of 14 sampled fish species, only four were correctly identified every time
- 18 percent of samples were incorrectly labeled
- None of the 22 samples they took of “red snapper” could be positively identified, and half were found to be other species of fish
- One “grouper” sample was actually tilefish, which is known to contain levels of mercury that could be dangerous, especially to pregnant women
- Coho salmon masqueraded as more expensive king salmon
It’s easy for dishonest businesses to pull off fish fraud. Rules about labeling leave wiggle room, and hardly any seafood is inspected for fraud. Investigations like this one are crucial for raising awareness about the issue and making sure government officials know we care about what’s on our plates. After all, seafood fraud hurts our wallets, our health, and our oceans.
Oceana is calling on the government to stop seafood fraud by enforcing current laws, inspecting more fish, and making sure agencies work together to stop dishonest businesses from ripping consumers off. You can help by telling your Senators to fight seafood fraud!
The next time you’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, Oceana’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 – 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 – 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 fish’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.
Wouldn’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.
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