Washington State Governor Jay Inslee today signed into law House Bill (HB) 1200, which begins to tackle seafood fraud in the state. Oceana commends Governor Inslee as our recent seafood fraud testing found not only that 18 percent of fish sampled and sold in Seattle was mislabeled, but that seafood fraud is rampant across the nation.
"Washington state continues to lead the way on seafood consumer protection issues," said Whit Sheard, Pacific Counsel and Senior Advisor with Oceana. "This bill is a win for seafood processors, fishermen, consumers, and, ultimately, healthy and productive oceans."
Seafood fraud occurs when consumers get something different than what they intended to purchase, and is unjust to consumers, the environment, and fishermen who utilize responsible fishing practices. Today, more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, but less than 1 percent of it is inspected by the government specifically for fraud.
HB 1200 begins to tackle seafood mislabeling in several ways. First, the bill requires that any fresh, frozen, or processed fish and shellfish be labeled by the common name so buyers can make an informed purchasing decision. The common names of fish are defined by the Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If a species’ common name is not already defined by the Director, then the market name becomes the acceptable common name as provided in the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines.
Second, the bill specifically addresses halibut mislabeling by requiring that only the species Hippoglossus hippoglossus (Atlantic halibut) or Hippoglossus stenolepsis (Pacific halibut) can be labeled as halibut. Many lower value species of flatfish are often labeled as ‘halibut,’ so while consumers may order ‘halibut’ at a local restaurant, there is a chance they are being served species such as blueline tilefish.
Finally, the legislation requires that salmon species be labeled by their scientific or accepted common name, which is especially important in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, where consumers face the possibility of farmed Atlantic salmon being substituted for species of wild caught Pacific salmon.
Sheard added that "Americans deserve to know more about the seafood they purchase and HB 1200 will begin to fill the gap in public awareness on this critical economic, environmental, and health issue."
HB 1200 passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate unanimously. Seafood fraud testing results conducted by Oceana in Washington State in addition to 20 other states nationwide can be accessed at http://oceana.org/en/news-media/publications/reports/oceana-study-reveals-seafood-fraudnationwide.