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Oceana Uncovers Widespread Seafood Fraud in NYC

Today Oceana released a new report documenting the problem of widespread seafood fraud in the New York City area. A full 39 percent of seafood sold in New York City grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues was found to be mislabeled.

Out of 142 samples Oceana conducted DNA testing on, from 81 separate businesses, 56 were found to be different species than advertised. Oftentimes cheaper fish was swapped in for more expensive species, but seafood fraud can be an issue of consumer safety as well, as discussed in the above segment aired on the NBC's Today Show this morning covering Oceana's report.

The report's key findings were:

  • Small markets had much higher fraud (40 percent) than national chain grocery stores (12 percent).
  • 100 percent of the 16 sushi venues tested sold mislabeled fish.
  • Tilefish, on the FDA’s do-not-eat list because of its high mercury content, was substituted for red snapper and halibut in one small market.
  • 94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish.
  • Thirteen different types of fish were sold as “red snapper,” including tilapia, white bass, goldbanded jobfish, tilefish, porgy/seabream, ocean perch and other less valuable snappers.

The fraud could even lead consumers to unknowingly violate religious dietary restrictions, such as when kosher fish like albacore or pacific cod are replaced by non-kosher fish, like escolar and sutchi catfish, respectively.

“Everywhere we look, we find seafood fraud, and New York City is no exception,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “Seafood fraud is a national problem that requires national attention. Traceability, tracking fish from boat to plate, will ensure that seafood is safe, legal and honestly labeled while preventing consumers from getting ripped off. ”

Elsewhere Oceana and others have found similar levels of fraud: in Boston 48 percent of seafood was mislabeled, in Los Angeles that figure reached 55 percent and in Miami 31 percent. Oceana is urging congress to pass the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, H.R. 6200, introduced this summer by Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). The Bill would require full traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S.

Show you care about what's on your plate and sign our petition. Learn more about seafood fraud. 


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Oceana Talks Seafood Fraud on ABC's 20/20

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Oceana’s senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield sat down with 20/20 to discuss the widespread problem of seafood fraud (skip to around 3:30 in the video). He gives a stark example of the problem.

If you go to Los Angeles and eat red snapper everyday for the next 30 days you will never see red snapper,” he says.

Not only does seafood fraud affect consumers' pocketbooks (inferior fish are often labeled as more expensive fish and drastically marked up) but it can be dangerous as well. As ABC found in their own investigation, 86% of sushi labeled as white tuna around the country was, in fact, escolar, a fish whose high content of waxy esters can cause "intestinal distress", to put it politely. The results echo Oceana's own investigations of seafood markets and restaurants in Boston, L.A. and Miami which found the problem of fraud to be widespread.

ABC also spoke with Oceana supporter, chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver.

"40,000 fish of copper river salmon were sold last year," he says. "Well, sorry, only 12,000 fish were caught in Copper River last year."

Seaver admits that even chefs of his caliber are vulnerable to the tricks of deceptive marketing, as he describes his recent experience being duped into buying inferior asian crab meat marketed as Maryland blue crab. One of the major problems, he says, is that the country imports more than 85% of its fish but the FDA inspects less than 2% of it.  It's why over 500 chefs signed a letter calling for full traceability of seafood sold in the U.S. and why in July, Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act (H.R. 6200). The legislation requires that all seafood sold in the U.S. be fully traceable. Oceana is currently building support in Congress for this important bill. Show you care about what's on your plate and sign our petition.


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New Report: Seafood Fraud in South Florida

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58% of samples from sushi vendors in South Florida were mislabeled ©Wikimedia Commons

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.


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Tuna Still Feeling the Effects of Fukushima

Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna are carrying radiation from Japan to California. ©Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen

It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.

new study found that after last spring’s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last spring’s nuclear accident in Japan.

The March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in central Japan. Even now, the only way to enter the zone 20 kilometers around the plant is with special government permission. After the accident, tests showed that concentrations of radioactive Cesium in coastal waters increased up to 10,000-fold.

This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the same radioactive Cesium in 15 Bluefin tuna specimens caught outside of San Diego. The fish tested showed a 10-fold increase from normal Cesium concentrations, well below the safety limit established by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishes.

Bluefin are a highly migratory species – they spawn in the West Pacific near Japan, then, once they have matured, may travel more than 9,000 miles to the East Pacific and the California coast. They’re such strong swimmers that the trip only takes a few months.

During the course of this trip, the radioactive concentration fell as the fish grew and the Cesium decayed. If they had tested tuna from Japan, the radiation would be expected to be up to 15 times more concentrated, according to Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann, and Nicholas Fisher, the co-authors of the study.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. They’re highly valued as sushi fish, which has led to a steep decline in their populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bluefin tuna are slow to mature, and are often caught before they have a chance to reproduce. Oceana is currently working to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.


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Kate Walsh on Access Hollywood

Kate Walsh was on Access Hollywood yesterday to announce the winner of her sushi dress giveaway on Twitter -- and she again gave Oceana a shout-out, check it out:

And congrats to Ariel B from Ithaca, NY, whose tweet was chosen from many to win the dress!

 


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Adrian Grenier Joins Oceana to Protect Bluefin Tuna

Last week Oceana launched a new bluefin tuna PSA campaign featuring “Entourage” star Adrian Grenier. In March, Grenier joined Oceana to swim with the endangered fish and help get the word out that they are “going fast” -- literally and figuratively.

Bluefin can grow to 15 feet in length, weigh up to 1500 pounds and can swim at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour. They are on the verge of extinction as a result of overfishing, and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico further threatens their survival.

The Gulf is the only place where the Western population of Atlantic bluefin tuna reproduces. After the spawning season (April to June), baby tuna continue to swim through the Gulf region where they can accumulate toxins in their gills from the oil itself and from the chemical dispersants.

“I hope that my involvement will bring attention to what is going on in the bluefin fishery,” Grenier said. “I want these PSAs to encourage people to get involved and help Oceana save these amazing creatures.”

Watch the PSA and get involved with Adrian and Oceana to protect bluefin!

 

Adrian Grenier Wants To Stop Bluefin Tuna From Going Too Fast from Oceana on Vimeo.


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Wha? Wednesday: Bluefin for Sale

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As you know, Wednesdays are normally devoted to blogging about the latest whale news. But I’ve redubbed today’s post in honor of yesterday's news about a certain sleek giant of the sea who continues to fetch exorbitant auction prices as it heads toward extinction. It makes you go, “Wha?”

Yesterday, a 513-pound bluefin tuna sold for $177,000 -- the most since 2001 -- in an auction at Tokyo’s famous fish market.

Ironically, the sale took place amid a decline in Japanese tuna consumption due to the nation’s worst recession since World War II.

So as Tokyo’s fish market representatives fret over how to keep c


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