When Oceana, an environmental group, tested 25,000 samples of seafood caught around the globe, it said an average of one out of five samples was mislabeled.
It said it analyzed studies from 55 countries, and all but one found mislabeling in every area of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing, and landing.
Besides misleading consumers, Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell says the mislabeling causes other kinds of harm. It cheats fishermen who follow the rules and it can cause some areas of the ocean to be overfished. The problem, she says, is world-wide.
Rife with fraud opportunities
“The path seafood travels from the fishing boat or farm to our dinner plates is long, complex and non-transparent, rife with opportunities for fraud and mislabeling,” Lowell said. “American consumers deserve to know more about their seafood, including what kind of fish it is, how and where it was caught or farmed, and they should be able to trust the information is accurate. The fight against seafood fraud must include all seafood and extend from boat to plate.”
When Oceana looked at studies of U.S. seafood since 2014, it found an average “fraud rate” of 28%. For example, it said 58% of the samples substituted other seafood that was different from the species on the label. Potentially, the group says, consumers could eat fish that could make them sick.
The studies also showed that most of the mislabeling was not accidental, that labeling a cheaper fish as a more expensive one increased the profit margin. The report said Asian catfish, hake and escolar were the fish most likely to be branded as a more expensive fish. It found Asian catfish was sold as 18 different types of higher-value fish.
Catching endangered species
In Italy, studies sampled 200 examples of grouper, perch and swordfish. More than 80% were mislabeled, and the report notes that nearly half the mislabeled fish were species that are considered threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
One study tested 69 bluefin tuna dishes in Brussels restaurants and found 98% were another species.
“Because illegally caught seafood, some caught or processed with slave labor, could be making its way onto our dinner plates disguised as legal catch, it is doubly important to improve transparency and accountability in the global seafood supply chain,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, who wrote the report.
Warner says the U.S. should pursue policies that improve traceability. That simple step, she says, would go a long way towards making sure when consumers pick up fish in the supermarket, it is what the label says it is.