Fish fraud: Study finds 20 percent of seafood samples mislabeled worldwide

Packaged Fresh Fish

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This finding underscores the need for concrete action to put in place full boat to plate traceability for all US seafood (whether domestic or imported) to protect USA consumers and businesses from seafood fraud. Of the more than 25,000 seafood samples the group analyzed, 20 percent were incorrectly labeled.

In more positive news, however, a 2014 Oceana study found only 5 percent of shrimp samples from Portland were misrepresented, the lowest rate among regions studied in the investigation.

In fact, mislabeled seafood was documented in every step of the seafood supply chain, from original landing of the fish and processing to wholesale purchasing and restaurant and grocery sales, according to a news release about the findings. Studies released in the US since 2014 found the average rate of fraud was 28 percent and more than half of the substituted fish could pose health risks to consumers.

Another striking example highlighted in the study noted that in Brazil, 55 percent of "shark" samples were actually largetooth sawfish, which are considered to be critically endangered by the IUCN and trading of the fish is prohibited in Brazil. "It's clear that seafood fraud respects no borders", Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell said in a statement.

The species most commonly substituted for other products were hake, escolar and Asian catfish - which was substituted for 18 different kinds of more expensive fish.

In 2015, Santa Monica restaurant and two sushi chefs were charged for selling whale meat, including meat from the endangered sei whale. In a NY grocery store they found blueline tilefish, which is on the Food and Drug Administration's "Do Not Eat" list because of its high mercury, sold as "Alaskan halibut" and "red snapper". Almost half of the fish being sold as grouper were species that are considered threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Oceana's report comes as conservationists gather in Washington D.C. for the Our Ocean Conference and after a presidential task force on fish fraud proposed a rule that would require more transparency for 13 "at-risk" types of seafood.

Domestically harvested seafood already faces state and federal reporting requirements.

As if more fish fraud wasn't enough, another report from the Associated Press finds major labor abuses in the American fishing industry.

Oceana says the proposed higher scrutiny of imported seafood is a good start.

Seafood mislabeling continues to be a significant issue throughout the world, according to an extensive analysis by the ocean conservation group, Oceana.

The report comes ahead of a conference this month organized by USA secretary of state John Kerry to discuss sustainable fishing, along wit h other ocean-related problems and policies. He added that the best fix for seafood fraud is more enforcement of the law rather than more bureaucratic regulations. In Italy, more than 80 percent of the 200 samples of grouper tested were mislabeled. Instead, Oceana says, the rule should cover all species.

"This report reveals that it's a global problem", she said, "and it's not going to go away on its own".

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