In 2011, Oceana shocked consumers with its 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 the organization, studies have found that seafood was being 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.”
Oceana claims that despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served a completely different species than the one they paid for.
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.”
According to Oceana, seafood safety is handled by a patchwork of laws with no federal agency definitively in charge of addressing seafood fraud. Little coordination or information sharing exists within the U.S. government and many of these laws are not being fully implemented.
“Seafood fraud can happen at many steps in the supply chain,” said Stephen Vilnit, commercial fisheries outreach and marketing at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“There are no longer any excuses for seafood fraud. We’ve got the technology to trace our seafood and that’s good for everyone from the fisherman to the consumer.”
Oceana 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.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation.
For more information about seafood fraud, visit www.oceana.org/fraud