A study on Seafood Fraud in the USA / by Francisco Blaha

While I work a lot with the operational side of IUU fisheries, there is an equally important type of crime at the other end of the value chain, species substitution and fraud. How prevalent is it? You'll be surprised!

From Oceana's report.

From Oceana's report.

Oceana (a Ocean protection NGO) conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states of the US to determine if they were honestly labeled.

DNA testing found that one-third (33%) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Some of facts  found are:

  • Mislabeling was found in 27 of the 46 fish types tested (59%).
  • Salmon,snapper,cod,tuna,sole, halibut and grouper were the top collected fish types.
  • Snapper (87%) and tuna (59%) were the most commonly mislabeled fish types.
  • Only 7 of the 120 red snapper samples were honestly labeled.
  • 44% of all the grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues visited sold mislabeled seafood.
  • Sushi restaurants were far more likely to mislabel their fish than grocery stores or other restaurants.
  • In Chicago, Austin, New York, and Washington DC, every single sushi restaurant sampled sold mislabeled tuna.
  • 84% of fish samples labeled "white tuna" were actually escolar, a by-catch of the tuna and swordfish longline fishery.

If you've ever wondered why the "tuna" and "snapper" sushi in the display case is so affordable, well... ain't what it says it is, and that always has been the basis of any fraud.

Today, more than 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and less than 1%t is inspected by the government specifically for fraud. With more than 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the American consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine what they are actually eating. 

A forthcoming FAO book that we wrote with my friend Gilles Hosch covering all the value chain from harvest to market, analysing the roles of flag, coastal, port, processing and market state does suggest some control tools (at end market state) for this malpractice. Looking forwards to present it at some stage when officially released.

Disclaimer: I take this results at "face value" I have not reviewed their methodology or conclusions, yet it would not surprise me if the results are accurate .