On June 8, 2011, Americans were shocked as CBS news aired a report on U.S. seafood, suggesting that large numbers of fish are mis-labeled in American markets.The report is one of many seafood fraud stories that have appeared in the media in recent years.
The CBS report presented information from the environmental group Oceana and other sources to households across the USA.
Oceana recently launched a new campaign aimed at stopping seafood fraud. At a recent press briefing, Oceana and other experts explained how seafood fraud can come in many different forms, from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging.
"We can track organic bananas back to packing stations on farms in Central and Latin America, yet consumers are given little to no information about one of the most popular foods in the United States – seafood," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, senior vice president for North America and chief scientist for Oceana. "With imports representing the vast majority of the seafood eaten in the United States, it’s more important than ever to know what we are eating and where, when and how it was caught."
The organization has also released a new report entitled Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health.
The report found that while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only two percent is currently inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for fraud.
According to Oceana, 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.
“We’ve tested well over 1,000 fish fillet samples over the past four years, from more than 50 cities across the country,” said William Gergits, co-founder and managing member of Therion International, LLC, (Saratoga Springs, NY), a worldwide leader in DNA testing of seafood. "Results from our DNA lab show that about half the time (an average of 50 percent) the fish you are eating is not the species listed on the menu."
Despite growing concern about where food comes from, consumers are frequently served a completely different species than the one they paid for. With about 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world now available in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect consumers to be able to independently and accurately determine what fish is really being served.
"Seafood fraud puts consumers and restaurants trying to make honest, eco-friendly choices at a disadvantage," said Ellen Kassoff Gray, general manager and co-owner of top-tier D.C. restaurants Watershed and Equinox. “We need the U.S. government to provide us with the tools to make good decisions for our oceans, our pocketbooks and our health. It’s just good business."
Oceana stated that the organization is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority, including implementing existing laws, increasing inspections, and improving coordination and information sharing among federal agencies.
The group is also working to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legal and honestly labeled, including requiring a traceability scheme 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.
For more information about Oceana's seafood fraud campaign, visit www.oceana.org/fraud