California Lawmakers Tackle Seafood Fraud
Press Release Date: April 9, 2014
Location: Sacramento, CA
This afternoon the California Senate Health Committee passed Senate Bill 1138, authored by Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will require that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by common name. Oceana appreciates the leadership of Senator Padilla and applauds the Senate Health Committee for confronting the appalling level of seafood fraud in California by passing the legislation out of committee.
“As Californians we care about our coast. We also care about sea life and ecosystems off our shores. Mislabeled seafood threatens species and imperils the sustainability of sea life in the Pacific Ocean and oceans around the world,” said Senator Alex Padilla.
“With Oceana’s new test results on seafood fraud, California consumers are faced with the frustration of knowing that up to half the time they are being served commonly swapped species instead of the seafood they actually ordered. Despite consumers’ best intentions to make informed decisions about the source and sustainability of their menu selections, they are being duped by this mislabeling” said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Campaign Director. “Senate Bill 1138 will help turn the tide on seafood fraud giving consumers the information they need to know to make informed decisions that affect their health and the health of the oceans.”
Oceana, the bill sponsor, conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations worldwide between 2010 and 2012 by collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues across 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33%) of the samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled. Alarmingly, California fared among the worst in the nation with 38% of seafood tested in Northern California mislabeled and 52% of seafood tested in Southern California mislabeled. Oceana also conducted a small sampling study in Monterey finding 36% seafood fraud.
“It is appalling and disheartening that consumers may be faced with health risks from consuming one species of seafood with higher contaminant levels than what they ordered and may be paying more for a less desirable substitute unbeknown to them,” said Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Manager with Oceana. “Seafood fraud is unjust to consumers, the environment, and to those fishermen using more responsible practices.”
“SB 1138 addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling. To protect our health, oceans, and economy it is essential that seafood be labeled accurately,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “Honesty is always the best policy,” added Padilla.
Combating seafood fraud will give seafood consumers more confidence in what they are buying with economic benefits to seafood retailers and restaurants.
The Senate Health Committee was the first legislative committee to discuss the bill. The legislation is next expected to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee before a full vote on the Senate floor.
Seafood fraud manifests itself in a few different ways. For example, DNA samples of seafood purchased in LA and Orange Counties found that some consumers ordered red snapper, sockeye salmon, or halibut but were actually served farmed tilapia, pollock, farmed salmon, or flounder- receiving less desirable products while paying higher market prices. Seafood mislabeling also carries a health risk. Escolar, often substituted for “white tuna,” is aptly nicknamed the “ex-lax” fish. This snake mackerel species contains a naturally occurring toxin, gempylotoxin, that can cause severe gastrointestinal problems for those who eat too much. Mislabeled seafood also may expose consumers unknowingly to seafood for which the FDA has high-mercury advisories, which is especially concerning for sensitive populations such as children and women of childbearing age. Seafood fraud can also compromise the health of ocean ecosystems as some species sold as red snapper are actually overfished rockfish species or ecologically damaging farmed tilapia.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.