Today, President Obama’s Task Force on Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud held its fourth and final public meeting in Washington, D.C. The task force, which was announced at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in June, directs federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive framework aimed at combatting seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market.
Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 seafood samples it tested were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. To date, there have been more than 100 studies conducted in 29 countries and on all continents except Antarctica, all of which found seafood fraud.
Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell provided public comments at today’s meeting. Below is an excerpt from her remarks:
“Seafood is one of the most popular foods in the United States, yet consumers are routinely given little or no information about where, when and how their seafood is harvested. Moreover, the information that is provided on seafood labels can be misleading or fraudulent. Despite growing concerns about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served the wrong fish—fish that could be a completely different species than the one they paid for.
With about 1,700 different species from all over the world now available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the average consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine which fish they are actually being served.
Seafood is traded internationally more than any other food, and the U.S. imports approximately 90 percent of its seafood. Today’s seafood is flown around the globe for processing after being caught or farmed, often crossing several international borders before reaching the end consumer. Increasing complexity and globalization of seafood markets have exacerbated fraud—as well as the unintentional selling of mislabeled seafood.
In order to ensure that all seafood sold is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled, we need to have more transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain, including full chain traceability. The information that the fishermen provide when they land the fish, like where, when and how it was caught, needs to follow that fish from boat to plate. This ensures that information is available to verify legality and identity of seafood in the supply chain, with some of that information available to the consumers so they can make informed decisions about the seafood they purchase to feed their families.
Fortunately, there are solutions to IUU and seafood fraud utilizing the existing authorities under federal fisheries, food and wildlife laws. As the Task Force considers how best to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud, Oceana recommends the following:
These recommended actions will help ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled while protecting honest fishermen and seafood businesses that are competing with illegal and fraudulent products; providing consumers with more information about the origins of their seafood; and helping stop IUU fishing, which harms the oceans, people’s livelihoods, and the food security of coastal communities dependent on sustainable fisheries.”
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.