Archive for January, 2012

Posted on January 21, 2012 - by

Don’t Be Fooled by Fish Fraud, It’s More Common Than You Think

The following article comes from Justin Boevers, Development & Outreach Manager at FishChoice.

The “Mystery Fish” story in December’s edition of Consumer Reports Magazine shed further light on an important issue – the widespread mislabeling of seafood. This particular study found that nearly 50% of seafood tested in the New England area was incorrectly labeled. This is not the first study of its kind. Three years ago, the “Imposter Fish” article was published in Conservation Magazine summarizing the efforts of eight students from Stanford who collected 77 samples and found that 60% were incorrectly labeled.

Why is this epidemic happening? First, certain fish command a premium price in the market and pawning off a less valuable species as a higher demand item is a big profit. Secondly, it’s easy. Fish lose most of their distinguishing characteristics during processing and because average seafood consumption is low and a lot of seafood is prepared with value-added elements, it is difficult for most consumers to know if the seafood they are eating is the same product as labeled or advertised.

Oceana, an organization leading the way on addressing the issue of “fish fraud” summarizes some of the main problems the epidemic of seafood mislabeling causes:

  • Food Safety – the actual seafood species may contain contaminants that might not be expected of the species identified on the label.
  • Undermines Choice – consumers trying to make responsible seafood choices are prevented from doing so when what they buy according to the label doesn’t match the fish inside.
  • Abundance Confusion – consumers get mixed messages when they hear that certain fish are no longer abundant, but see these species’ names on mislabeled menus and packaging.
  • Most common types of seafood that have been identified as mislabeled:

    • Farmed salmon being sold as wild salmon
    • Imported farmed shrimp being sold as wild, domestic shrimp
    • Tilapia being sold as red snapper, especially in sushi
    • Catfish and pangasius being sold as flounders and groupers

    What can you do?

    • Learn about the fish you like to eat. Learn the scientific name and the marketing names, the seasonality of the fish, what fish may be able to be passed off as the species in question, and eat it enough to know how it tastes differently than similar fish.
    • Ask your waiter or seafood counter staff about where the fish is from and how it was caught. If they know how, where and when it was caught, then feel confident that it is correctly labeled.
    • Request the species, origin and fishing/farming method be voluntarily displayed on menus, seafood cases, and packaging. Only those that are completely confident that their seafood is what they say it is will put it out there for all the world to see.

    Do you have more questions or thoughts to share on the subject of fish fraud? Leave a comment below!

    Justin Boevers is the Outreach and Development Manager for Justin helps small and medium-sized business understand the issues around sustainable seafood and helps them find responsible sources. FishChoice is a nonprofit that runs a free, B2B website connecting businesses that buy or sell sustainable seafood. You can follow FishChoice on Twitter and like their facebook page to stay up to speed on sustainable seafood issues and developments.