Oceana Launches Interactive Map Showing Global Reach of Seafood Fraud | Oceana

Oceana Launches Interactive Map Showing Global Reach of Seafood Fraud

Press Release Date: June 25, 2014



Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

WASHINGTON – Today, Oceana launched a new interactive map using Google Maps Engine showing the global reach of seafood fraud. The map, which is the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date, compiles more than 100 studies from 29 countries and every continent except Antarctica.

While the percentage of seafood fraud found in these studies varies from 1.5 to 100 percent, the average level is 22 percent (weighted based on sample size). Oceana is releasing the interactive map only days before Secretary John Kerry and the State Department convene a global conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the challenges facing our oceans.

“Seafood fraud is a global problem that requires a global solution,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “Because our seafood travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the U.S. market. We are thankful that the Obama administration is holding the ‘Our Ocean’ conference because it provides the perfect opportunity for leaders to advance efforts to fight global problems like illegal fishing and seafood fraud.”

Seafood fraud cheats consumers and puts public health and our oceans at risk. It also allows illegally caught fish to be laundered into the market. A study published in Marine Policy in April estimated that between 20-32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported into the United States comes from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) or “pirate” fishing. 

A few of the most egregious examples that Oceana has collected include:

  • Affects Our Wallets:
    • In 1989, FDA’s Chicago district seized a 45,000-pound lot of a fish called oreo dory that was imported from New Zealand, but labeled as “orange roughy.”  Although both species come from New Zealand, orange roughy sold for $6 per pound while oreo dory sold for only $2. FDA estimates the firm could have realized an unfair profit of about $150,000 (Foulke 1993).
    • Grouper is commonly mislabeled because it is popular, expensive, and easily substituted with other types of flaky white fish. Researchers in Spain tested 70 samples of grouper and found that more than 82% were mislabeled. Substitutes included Nile perch and a species called wreck fish, both of which cost less than grouper (Asensio et al. 2008a).
  • Affects Our Health:
    • In Chicago, two people became ill when they unknowingly purchased and consumed pufferfish, a species that contains a harmful neurotoxin. The sample was mislabeled as “monkfish” (Cohen et al., 2009).
    • In Taiwan, PoC, Province of China, researchers tested 41 “cod” fillets and discovered that about one-third (32%) were mislabeled. Stand-ins included oilfish and Greenland halibut (Hwang et al. 2012). Because of its high indigestible oil content, oilfish is not regularly intended for human consumption and is instead used for industrial lubricants. Consuming more than a few ounces causes some people to experience unpleasant gastrointestinal effects.
  • Affects Our Oceans:
    • In one study in Brazil, 55% of 44 samples labeled as “shark” were identified as largetooth sawfish, an IUCN Critically Endangered species prohibited for sale in Brazil (Melo Palmeira et al. 2013).
    • A study in New Zealand examined 587 shark fin and meat samples that were collected at the dock and found 40% of the samples labeled as “lemon fish” (a type of shark) were mislabeled. In addition, a portion of the shark fins came from species prohibited for harvest: the hammerhead shark and the bronze whaler (Smith and Benson 2001).

“Profit appears to be a primary motive for seafood fraud and mislabeling,” said Rachel Golden, science fellow at Oceana. “In most cases, cheaper or more readily available species are being swapped for more expensive or desirable ones. But this is more than just a simple bait and switch. Our review shows that seafood fraud is a major public health concern worldwide, and that it provides a market for modern-day pirates to launder fish onto our dinner plates.”  

Other highlights from the map include:

  • The U.S. has the highest number of studies on seafood fraud (39), followed by Spain (14) and Italy (11).
  • Red snapper was a commonly mislabeled species around the world (11 studies in the U.S., Canada, Columbia and Panama), with fraud levels ranging from 46-100%. Across 11 studies, less than one in five of the more than 400 red snapper samples were correctly labeled.
  • Other commonly mislabeled species include cod, grouper and wild salmon.
  • Seafood fraud also affects species such as jellyfish, abalone, anglerfish, skate and octopus.
  • Seafood fraud is not new. The earliest account of seafood fraud identified thus far occurred in 1915.

Oceana believes that traceability, or tracking our seafood from boat to plate, will help to ensure that our seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.




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.