Fraudulent Fish in the U.S. Marketplace
Everyone’s heard that eating fish is supposed to support a healthy lifestyle. However, few have heard that the tuna or salmon they are purchasing in their local supermarkets and restaurants might not be what they are being led to believe it is. Consumers are unknowingly falling prey to seafood fraud, the new deceitful game in town. Seafood fraud is defined by Oceana as, “any illegal activity that misrepresents the fish you purchase, including mislabeling or substituting one species for another.”
Seafood is desirable in the global marketplace and is amongst the most traded food items. In the United States, an alarming 90 percent of our seafood is imported. What’s even more concerning is that less than 1 percent of what we are importing is actually inspected by the government. This means that–in the U.S. especially–opportunities for seafood fraud are abundant.
From 2010 to 2012, Oceana carried out the largest seafood fraud investigation in the world, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Their objective was simple: determine if the seafood samples had been properly labeled. Their findings were shocking. DNA testing found that one-third (33 percent) of the 1,215 samples were mislabeled.
Samples sold as tuna and snapper had the highest rate of mislabeling at 87 and 59 percent, respectively. Only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. Once tested, it was discovered that the 113 other samples were an assortment of different fish species – none of which, as the labels suggested, were tuna or red snapper.
Just how far does this seafood fraud go? Where is it occurring? A startling 44 percent of all the retail outlets that were visited during the investigation sold mislabeled fish. According to the study, the most deceptive seafood fraudsters are sushi vendors (74 percent), restaurants (38 percent), and grocery stores (18 percent).
Seafood fraud should stir up concern because some of the fish being sold under the guise of red snapper or tuna include species that carry health advisories. Mislabeled fish tricks the consumer into buying something that could be carrying undeclared allergens, contaminants or toxins. Mislabeling poses a dangerous risk to the consumer.
Because the global seafood supply chain is so complex, it is difficult to track where seafood fraud originates from. Oceana’s study stated that “with lagging federal oversight and minimal government inspection despite rising fish imports, and without sampling along the supply chain, it is difficult to determine if fraud is occurring at the boat, during processing, at the wholesale level, at the retail counter, or somewhere else along the way.”
So what is a consumer to do in the United States?
Thanks to the study completed by Oceana, it is apparent that a system needs to be implemented at the national level that would implement end-to-end tracking of imported fish–from the boats where they’re caught to the plates of American consumers. Additionally, there is a dire need for increased and improved inspection methods when it comes to receiving our imports.
The American people deserve better. Spread the word and inform your friends of the fraudulent practices taking place in the United States. It’s a danger to our health and must be stopped. Contact your congressmen ask them what they’re doing to stop seafood fraud.