WASHINGTON - Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, today launched its new campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. At the press briefing, Oceana and other experts explained how seafood fraud can come in many different forms – from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging – and how it hurts our oceans, wallets and health.
“We can track organic bananas back to packing stations on farms in Central and Latin America, yet consumers are given little to no information about one of the most popular foods in the United States – seafood,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, senior vice president for North America and chief scientist for Oceana. “With imports representing the vast majority of the seafood eaten in the United States, it’s more important than ever to know what we are eating and where, when and how it was caught.”
Oceana also today released a new report entitled Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health. The report 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.
“We’ve tested well over 1,000 fish fillet samples over the past four years, from more than 50 cities across the country,” said William Gergits, co-founder and managing member of Therion International, LLC, (Saratoga Springs, NY), a worldwide leader in DNA testing of seafood. “Results from our DNA lab show that about half the time (an average of 50 percent) the fish you are eating is not the species listed on the menu.”
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.
“Seafood fraud puts consumers and restaurants trying to make honest, eco-friendly choices at a disadvantage,” said Ellen Kassoff Gray, general manager and co-owner of top-tier D.C. restaurants Watershed and Equinox. “We need the U.S. government to provide us with the tools to make good decisions for our oceans, our pocketbooks and our health. It’s just good business.”
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.
“Seafood fraud can happen at many steps in the supply chain,” said Stephen Vilnit, commercial fisheries outreach and marketing at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “There are no longer any excuses for seafood fraud. We’ve got the technology to trace our seafood – and that’s good for everyone from the fisherman to the consumer.”
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 scheme 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.
To access Oceana’s online press kit, including photos and b-roll, please visit http://webdisk.oceana.org. Username – media; Password – Medi@; Folder – Seafood Fraud Launch