Blog Tags: Seafood Mislabeling
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:
- 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.
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.’’
Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing, and health. Today we’ll be focusing on seafood fraud.
Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about seafood and its origins for financial profit—and it happens as to as much as 70 percent of some types of fish.
Fraudulent information can include where and how the fish was caught, or even what kind of fish it is. Seafood producers can benefit from fraud by labeling cheaper fish as a more expensive kind or by covering up illegal fishing practices that would otherwise make their fish impossible to sell.
But seafood fraud hurts consumers, and not just by ripping them off. People with seafood allergies could unknowingly eat fish that gives them a nasty reaction. Fraudulent fish can be tropical species with a disease called ciguatera, which can cause serious symptoms like pain, nausea, cramps, and reversed temperature sensations.
And seafood fraud wreaks havoc on conservation efforts. Mislabeling allows endangered species into the market and can hide fishing methods that hurt and kill other marine life, like sea turtles and dolphins.
How can you avoid being a victim of seafood fraud? Processed fish is more likely to be fraudulent, so look for packages with the most detailed information about when, where, and how fish were caught. Whole fish are more difficult to disguise than fillets—take our online seafood fraud quiz to learn how similar fillets can look.
We’re working every day to reduce seafood fraud, and you can help by asking your senator to pass legislation to curb seafood fraud.
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- Oceana’s 2014 Balearic Seamount Expedition: Diaries from the Field Posted Thu, August 28, 2014