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.



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    1. Visit My Website

      January 23, 2012


      Holly Priestley said:

      There is also a brand of seafood know as CATCH OF THE DAY so when a menu has on it CATCH OF THE DAY it may be old frozen fish and they are not lying … learned this while working on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City years ago …

    2. Visit My Website

      January 23, 2012


      Peter Davies said:

      It is not only fish markets we need to look our for, but also restaurants. I recently took family to a seafood restaurant in the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan, and ordered the “shrimp” basket. It looked quite generous at first. But then I realized that the “shrimp” was actually some kind of fish compressed and formed into butterfly-like shapes. The “shrimp” did not have the springy texture of shrimp.
      It cost around $19, and I am certain the restaurant made quite a profit on the dish.

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      January 23, 2012


      Pi-Qui said:

      we know there is a lot of “greenwashing” in this industry. People are lied to on daily base, we totally agree with this iniative to curb the lies of the food industry.
      CEO PW Baltink
      Online TV Radio Europe

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      January 23, 2012


      Halibut Phil said:

      “Meat Glue” is used on fish pieces to make it stick together into shapes (shrimp and scallops) that it isn’t. Google “meat glue”, also used with animal meats. Also cookie cutter scallops are made from various fish and shark pieces. Monk fish in some places can be a good lobster/crab stretcher in dishes with shredded meats. One the west coast shark has been labeled white fish (salt water) for years. Buyer beware. An old German saying “Know your sausage maker well”.

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      January 23, 2012


      Halibut Phil said:

      Link on meat glue for meats and fish. You can find it for sale on Amazon here in the US.

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      January 23, 2012


      Dr. Ruth Heidrich said:

      Better yet, don’t eat fish! There’s nothing healthy about eating fish muscle which has about the same cholesterol as land animal muscle, and you can get the touted omega 3s from the same source the fish get it, leafy greens or, in the case of fish, sea weed! Plus, with all this emphasis on eating fish (and fish oil), we are seeing devastating collapse of the sea’s ecosystem! Pretty devastating to the whole planet!

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      February 9, 2012


      Louis said:

      Hello. You’re article is spot on! As an a Wild Alaskan Salmon producer, I can tell you that we regularly get new customers because a knowledgable salmon buyer received something from another company that he knew was fraudulent. This is especially true with the more expensive species like King and Sockeye – and even more often with anything labeled as “Copper River Salmon”. The state of Alaska requires all processed fish to have the origin of processing encoded in the label, and the fish can be traced back to the time and place it was bled and cut. These facilities are routinely inspected, so you can feel good that you will get an honest answer if you inquire with them about your particular product. For the reputable salmon producers, loosing this license is not worth protecting any individual retailer.

      As for Dr. Ruth’s previous comment, she is factually correct about the ways you can get Omega 3 oils, but she is factually incorrect about the effective cholesterol levels. Eating wild salmon is healthy on so many levels – studies show that the particular proteins you ingest are good for the brain, healthy for the heart and colon, and for weight control.

    8. Lenny said:

      Real seafood!
      It is so sad to read these articles and see all the fraud against the american population. If you want to eat real FISH and SEAFOOD, tHE BEST IN THE WORLD..GO TO PERU! where it is unthinkable that somebody will lie with the quality or names of products.Hope you had the chance to ask/travel to Peru..Wishing you the best.