Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, found seafood fraud in Boston-area supermarkets, according to a new report released today. DNA testing confirms mislabeling of nearly one in five fish fillets sampled.
“We went looking for seafood fraud in Boston and we found it,” said Gib Brogan, Oceana’s Northeast representative. “The results are troubling. Consumers are frequently getting something other than what they paid for. Seafood mislabeling is ripping off consumers, while potentially endangering their health and harming our oceans.”
Early this spring, Oceana targeted fifteen supermarkets in and around Boston that are owned by three popular grocery store chains. Oceana attempted to purchase two (frozen or fresh) fish fillets of three commonly mislabeled species – red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod – from each supermarket. When these species were not available, other fish species were selected such as grey sole and vermilion snapper.
In total, Oceana collected 92 samples, of which 88 yielded results for species identification through DNA testing. Oceana contracted the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada to analyze the samples. Guelph uses a DNA barcoding system, which involves extracting a short DNA sequence from a gene found in all animals and then comparing it to a catalogue of more than 8,000 fish species that have been barcoded as part of their Fish Barcode of Life (FISH-BOL) initiative. The DNA testing results found that 16 of the 88 samples were mislabeled and that the rate of mislabeling ranged from 14 to 23 percent for any given grocery store chain.
“It is a shame that one in five Boston shoppers who are trying to make informed choices at seafood counters are being swindled,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana. “The U.S. government should be doing more testing to ensure that consumers are not being deceived.”
Oceana’s findings also concluded that Atlantic cod was the most commonly mislabeled fish species and overfished red snapper was often sold as vermilion snapper.
About Seafood Fraud
Oceana recently launched its new campaign to stop seafood fraud, which can come in many different forms – from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging.
In a new report entitled Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health, Oceana found that while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only two percent is currently inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.
Despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served the wrong fish – a completely different species than the one they paid for. With about 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world now available in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect consumers to be able to independently and accurately determine what fish is really being served.
Our seafood is following an increasingly complex path from fishing vessel to processor to distributor and ultimately our plates. Seafood safety is handled by a patchwork of laws with no federal agency definitively in charge of addressing seafood fraud. Little coordination or information sharing exists within the U.S. government and many of these laws are not being fully implemented.
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. Oceana is also working to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled, including requiring a traceability system where information such as when, where, and how a fish is caught follows it throughout the supply chain – from boat to plate – allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they eat while keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market.
For more information about seafood fraud and Oceana’s new campaign, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.