Seafood Mislabeling: I’ll Take the Mystery Fish
by Beth Lowell, Campaign Director at OCEANA, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans.
Summer has officially started. Cars are packed for trips to the beach, grills are fired up in backyards and friends and families are sitting down to enjoy their favorite dinners. Fresh seafood is likely to appear on most summertime menus, but did you know that much of the seafood on the market today is mislabeled? The key question is – are we getting what we’re paying for?
How big is the problem?
Recent studies have found that seafood can be mislabeled up to 25 to 70 percent of the time for commonly swapped species like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod. Often, this is done to swap a species for one that is less expensive and more readily available.
How does this happen?
The path that our fish travels from fishing boat to plate is a complex route. Each stop in the supply chain presents an opportunity for seafood fraud, such as mislabeling. Mislabeling seafood not only allows illegally caught fish to enter into the U.S. market, but it also rips off consumers.
How do you know if your seafood is mislabeled?
You probably don’t. With about 1,700 different species of seafood available in the U.S. from all over the world, it is unrealistic to expect consumers to accurately determine which fish is actually being served. While most seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, only a small fraction of these fish are inspected, and even less specifically for fraud.
How do we stop it?
Tracking seafood from bait to plate is the only way to ensure that the seafood you buy is the seafood you get. Traceability would require information to follow each fish as it moves along the supply chain, through processing, packing and distribution. By tracking your fish, like your latest online order, consumers and officials can verify their identity and allow consumers to make more informed seafood choices.
As we celebrate World Oceans Day, enjoy our seafood dinners, and toast to good health, we should also make time to ask our members of Congress to ensure that our seafood is safe, legal and honestly labeled.
Until seafood traceability is required in the U.S., consumers should continue to ask questions about the fish they buy. If the sever or fish monger can’t answer your questions, then you might want to pick something else. And never forget – if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by ohallmann