Alphin Brothers Inc.,a seafood processor and wholesale distributor in North Carolina, was sentenced this month in federal court for falsely labeling imported shrimp. An employee purchased shrimp on the company’s behalf and directed employees to falsely label farm-raised imported shrimp as a wild-caught product of the U.S. This mislabeled product was sold by Alphin Brothers to customers in Louisiana through interstate commerce.
The facility was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $100,000 and to forfeit about 21,450 pounds of shrimp. The company will also serve three years of probation. And they must implement a training program to educate employees on federal labeling requirements and laws.
Those federal laws require seafood retailers to provide consumers notice of the country of origin and method of production of shrimp and other shellfish. These regulations, known as COOL, or “country of origin labeling”, state that shrimp can be labeled “product of the United States” only if they were “harvested and processed in the United States or by a United States-flagged vessel and have not undergone any substantial transformation outside the United States.”
Those “substantial transformations” do not include packing, repacking, thawing, freezing, cleaning, peeling, deveining, grading, cooking, or soaking shrimp in sodium tripolyphosphate solution.
The agency Oceana focuses on seafood fraud, that is, facilities that sell seafood that is deliberately mislabeled. They have found that at least one-third of seafood sold in this country is mislabeled. Fraud lets illegally caught fish to be entered into U.S. commerce, it cheats consumers, and can cause illness by mislabeling and misbranding.