Seafood Fraud | Oceana

Seafood Fraud

Seafood Fraud: Stopping Bait and Switch

Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to increase profits.

The Campaign

Seafood is a popular food internationally, yet consumers are routinely given little or no information about the seafood they eat. The information they are given can be misleading which impacts consumers, public health, fishermen, honest seafood businesses and the oceans. Oceana is working to require traceability for all seafood which will help to prevent seafood mislabeling and keep illegally caught fish out of the international market while providing more information to consumers about their seafood purchases.

Seafood is a global commodity traded all over the world, following a long, complex and non-transparent supply chain. It also serves as an important source of protein for millions of people every day. However, seafood fraud and species substitutions occur regularly, cheating consumers out of what they ordered and putting public health and the oceans at risk. In addition, seafood fraud allows illegally caught fish to be laundered into the legal seafood trade.

Seafood fraud is a global problem: It has been studied and found all over the world.  Oceana is leading the way by exposing seafood fraud through extensive DNA testing and in campaigning for policy change that would put in place traceability requirements that would result in fish being tracked from boat to plate in order to bring transparency to the seafood supply chain, help prevent seafood mislabeling and fraud and stamp out markets for illegally fished products.

Click here to learn more about Oceana’s latest report, One Name, One Fish: Why Seafood Names Matter.

What Oceana Does

Exposing the extent of Seafood Fraud


Oceana has been a leader in exposing seafood fraud. In the United States, Oceana conducted a number of studies to determine the extent of seafood fraud. Our 2013 national seafood fraud report was one of the largest investigations in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33 percent) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. Our most recent effort revealed a bait and switch of America’s favorite seafood—shrimp. In the report, Oceana found 30 percent of shrimp samples to be misrepresented. Oceana has also conducted similar seafood fraud studies in Europe. In addition to testing seafood, Oceana compiled the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date which examined more than 100 studies from around the world. Oceana’s research has generated widespread media coverage and has supported its policy work. Most recently, Oceana’s successful campaigning helped to convince President Obama to establish a task force charged with developing recommendations, including domestic and international measures, to stop seafood fraud and end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.


Advocating for Traceability


In order to ensure that all seafood sold is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled, Oceana campaigns for 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.



November 16, 2022

New Rule in the United States Requires Seafood Traceability through U.S. Supply Chain

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule requiring traceability of high-risk foods, including most seafood. Now, businesses must track most seafood from the point of landing through the supply chain to the final point of sale. These new changes will help curb seafood fraud, which occurs regularly, cheats consumers, and puts public health and the oceans in jeopardy. Oceana and our allies campaigned for years for a strong boat-to-plate traceability rule from the FDA, including securing support from members of Congress and Wavemakers.

August 29, 2017

U.S. Court Upholds Rule Requiring Traceability for At-Risk Seafood Imports

A federal court ruled in favor of upholding the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, rejecting a lawsuit that would have invalidated the rule. The program helps to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud by increasing seafood traceability. The Commerce Department program, also known as the Seafood Traceability Rule, was implemented by the US government following campaigning by Oceana. It requires seafood importers of species like tuna, grouper, swordfish, red snapper and blue crab to provide specific information before their products can enter the United States, including what kind of fish it is, as well as how and where it was caught or farmed. Oceana (represented by Earthjustice), the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a joint amicus brief in support of the Seafood Traceability Rule.

December 8, 2016

Obama Administration Announces Final Rule to Address Illegal Fishing and Seafood Fraud in United States

The Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud announced a final rule to implement the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to address illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the United States. The final rule will require imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud to be traced from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border, helping to stop illegally caught and mislabeled seafood from entering the United States. Since 2011, Oceana has campaigned to stop seafood fraud and ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. President Obama directed agencies to work together to develop a robust plan to address seafood fraud and illegal fishing at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference in June 2014. 

March 31, 2015

Federal Government Announces Final Action Plan for Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing

The Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud announced its final action plan to tackle these issues. Since 2011, Oceana has worked to stop seafood fraud and ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. Oceana has released several studies over the past few years that uncover seafood fraud, such as a 2014 study revealing that America’s favorite seafood – shrimp – was misrepresented in 30 percent of the 143 products tested and a 2013 similar study that found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 fish samples it tested nationwide were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. President Obama directed agencies to work together to develop a robust plan to address seafood fraud and illegal fishing at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference in June 2014, and Oceana applauds President Obama’s commitment to addressing seafood fraud and illegal fishing.

January 2, 2015

Presidential Task Force Releases Strong Recommendations on Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing

President Obama’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud delivered its draft recommendations, and were hailed as being a strong and robust first step at tackling these issues. The recommendations included domestic and international measures that help ensure seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled—such as strengthening enforcement and increasing collaboration between state and federal governments, industry groups and more. The president established the task force in June at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. Oceana has actively worked to combat seafood fraud since 2011, and has released several reports on the issue, created a map that reflects that most comprehensive literature review on seafood fraud to-date, and submitted comments to the President’s Task Force this past fall.

September 5, 2014

California Legislature Passes Seafood Labeling Bill with Bi-Partisan Support

Both the California Senate and Assembly pass seafood labeling legislation (SB 1138), authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will begin to tackle the complex problem of seafood fraud in California. It requires that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by common name, as well as wholesalers and processors label whether a species was wild-caught or farm-raised, and if it was domestically caught or imported. Oceana sponsored the bill, and in previous DNA testing found that California faired as one of the worst states in the nation for seafood mislabeling. SB 1138 is now waiting California Governor Jerry Brown’s consideration to sign into law. This bill is important to protecting human health, ocean ecosystems, and the economy.

September 19, 2013

Washington State Signs Seafood Fraud Bill

On May 20, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 1200, which tackles seafood fraud in the state. Oceana’s recent seafood fraud testing found that 18 percent of fish sampled and sold in Seattle were mislabeled. More than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, but less than 1 percent of it is ever inspected by the government specifically for fraud. Washington’s new bill will combat seafood fraud by requiring that fish and shellfish be labeled by their common names, especially cracking down on mislabeling species of halibut and salmon.

May 14, 2012

California Senate Health Committee Passes Seafood Fraud Bill

The California Senate Committee on Health took a key step forward to combat rampant seafood fraud occurring in the Golden State by passing SB 1486, a seafood labeling bill with important ramifications for human health, environmental sustainability, and consumer protection. Oceana applauds the Senate Health Committee for taking a leadership role in confronting the appalling level of seafood fraud in California.

SB 1486 will serve as a catalyst to get to the heart of seafood mislabeling in California by requiring that chain restaurants with 19 or more locations provide consumers with key information about the seafood they are served including: the scientific common name of the seafood; the country in which the seafood was raised or caught; and whether the seafood was farm-raised or wild-caught. The Senate Health Committee was the first legislative committee to discuss the bill.

News & Reports

Learn More

Conservation Impacts of Seafood Fraud

Report: One Name, One Fish

What is Seafood Fraud?