Blue Ocean Institute

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Seafood Fraud

Fish sold as red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod are commonly mislabeled.

A Boston Globe study of over a hundred Boston-area seafood restaurants found that 48 percent of the fish was mislabeled.  When asked about the discrepancies, some restaurant owners shrugged saying that everyone does it.

The most common kinds of fraud are mislabeling a fish as wild when it’s not, such as salmon, or selling a completely different fish than the one named, for instance selling a rockfish as a red snapper.

In the high priced world of caviar from threatened sturgeon, fraud exists on several levels, from directly misrepresenting the fish as farmed when it’s actually wild to counterfeit labels on the fish or the caviar tins.

Seafood fraud not only cheats consumers but it could also adversely affect catch data that form the basis of sustainable fisheries management.  In some cases, seafood fraud could undermine healthy choices.

Consumer reports found many samples labeled as grouper were in fact tilefish, which contains much more mercury than grouper.  The Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant women, women of child bearing age, and children avoid eating tilefish because of high levels of mercury.

Government agencies that have the authority to enforce rules around seafood fraud have not made it a priority.  While an estimated 86 percent of all the seafood that Americans consume is imported, the FDA inspects less than about two percent of it.

One of the challenges to combating seafood fraud, aside from the lack of DNA testing out in the field and slack government agencies, is the supply chain.  Seafood often changes hands repeatedly from net to consumer.  Determining where the fraud begins can be difficult.

3 things you can do to fight seafood fraud: 

1. Buy whole fish.
2. Be wary of very inexpensive seafood.
3. Ask questions: Where was this fish caught? Is it in season?

Other great ways you can make a difference.

 LINKS & VIDEOS

Seafood Fraud Overview – Oceana
Caviar Caveats – Science News
Mystery Fish – Consumer Reports
Feds to Fight Massive Fraud in Seafood Sizes – Huff Post

Don’t Be Fooled – Fresh

Buyer Beware: Wild Salmon Scams Run Rampant, Randy Hartnell, Vital Choice Blog

Fish as Food in an Age of Globalization, University of British Columbia
Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets, and Our Health, Oceana

Trade Secrets: Renaming and Mislabeling of Seafood, University of British Columbia

Government Falls Short on Seafood Inspections, Food and Water Watch


Related Videos:

How Seafood Fraud Works, Boston Globe

Fish is often mislabeled along the supply chain from hook to fork.


Hake Hoax: Fish in Spain Not Always What Label Says

Hake is Spain’s most popular fish, but consumers aren’t always getting what they think they are buying. A scientific study conducted by the International Center for Investigative Journalists found that almost one in 10 fish purchased at markets in Spain were mislabeled.


Fish Fraud: CBS Report

The non-profit group, Oceana reports that nearly one in three fish purchased is mislabeled. CBS News contributor Katie Lee investigates seafood fraud and tells consumers what to look out for.