Oceana Uncovers Widespread Seafood Fraud in New York City
Press Release Date: December 11, 2012
Location: New York City
Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, found 39 percent of seafood to be mislabeled in the New York City-area, according to a new report released today. DNA testing of 142 seafood samples from 81 retail outlets, including grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues, confirmed that 56 samples were mislabeled according to United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.
“It’s unacceptable that New York seafood lovers are being duped more than one-third of the time when purchasing certain types of fish,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “Not only are New Yorkers being cheated when buying fraudulent fish, but those wanting to choose their seafood wisely for health, religious or conservation concerns are being seriously misled.”
Oceana’s investigation in the New York City-area, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and other surrounding towns, targeted species with regional significance like cod as well as those that were found to be mislabeled in previous studies such as red snapper, white tuna and wild salmon.
Among the report’s key findings include:
- 58 percent of the retail outlets sampled sold mislabeled fish (three in five).
- Small markets had much higher fraud (40 percent) than national chain grocery stores (12 percent).
- 100 percent of the 16 sushi venues tested sold mislabeled fish.
- Tilefish, on the FDA’s do-not-eat list because of its high mercury content, was substituted for red snapper and halibut in one small market.
- 94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish.
- Thirteen different types of fish were sold as “red snapper,” including tilapia, white bass, goldbanded jobfish, tilefish, porgy/seabream, ocean perch and other less valuable snappers.
“Everywhere we look, we find seafood fraud, and New York City is no exception,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “Seafood fraud is a national problem that requires national attention. Traceability, tracking fish from boat to plate, will ensure that seafood is safe, legal and honestly labeled while preventing consumers from getting ripped off. ”
Oceana and others also recently uncovered shocking levels of seafood mislabeling in the Boston (48 percent), Los Angeles (55 percent) and Miami (31 percent) areas. Oceana is now urging Congress to pass the Safety in Fraud and Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, H.R. 6200, which would require full traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. The bill, introduced this summer by Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), will likely be reintroduced next year and would take actions to stop seafood fraud that hurts our oceans, our wallets and our health.
To read Oceana’s new report, please visit www.oceana.org/nycfraudreport.
About Seafood Fraud
Seafood fraud can come in many different forms – from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging.
In a report released last year entitled Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health, Oceana revealed that while a majority of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only two percent is inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for fraud. In fact, recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.
Despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served the wrong fish. With about 1,700 different species of seafood now available from all over the world and the high rates of fraud uncovered by Oceana, without DNA testing, consumers have no way to independently and accurately determine what fish is really being served.
Our seafood is following an increasingly complex path from fishing vessel to processor to distributor and ultimately our plates. Seafood safety is handled by a patchwork of laws with no federal agency definitively in charge of addressing seafood fraud. Little coordination or information sharing exists within the U.S. government, and many of these laws are not being fully implemented.
Oceana is calling on the federal government to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled, including requiring a traceability system where information such as when, where and how a fish is caught follows it throughout the supply chain – from boat to plate – allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they eat while keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market.
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.