Oceana released a report last week revealing shortfalls in the Obama administration’s proposed traceability rule to address seafood fraud in this country. The rule does not increase transparency for most of the seafood sold in the U.S. Oceana believes it should be expanded to include all seafood through the full supply chain.
Seafood fraud is any illegal activity that misrepresents seafood at the market. Mislabeling can hide illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) that depletes fisheries, threatens wildlife on the brink of extinction, and stresses the ocean’s ecosystems. It also cheats consumers and may hurt people who buy mislabeled products and are allergic to them. Antibiotics and pesticides may be used in industrial farming operations, but seafood may be labeled as wild. In addition, if larger fish are labeled as smaller fish, consumers may ingest naturally occurring toxins and environmental contaminants present in the large fish.
The Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud was established in 2014. An action plan was released in 2015, requiring information to follow 13 “at risk” seafood types from the boat to the US. border. While this is a good first step, it leaves the rest of the seafood sold in the U.S. with no transparency. Seafood fraud occurs within this country too.
The report states that 74% of the 50 seafood types that have been mislabeled are not covered in this proposed rule. And 77% of the legal cases where seafood was ruled mislabeled occurred within the U.S. and are not covered under this new rule. In addition, the rule does nothing to trace the fish that are substituted in mislabeling. The report also states that 62% of the 180 seafood species identified as imposters in Oceana’s analysis have health risks.
Some of the findings include wholesalers allegedly mislabeling imported swimming crab as if it were the more valuable, wild-caught blue crab, a distributor found guilty of labeling Mexican-caught shrimp as U.S. shrimp, and a seafood processor selling coho salmon as the more expensive Chinook salmon.
Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana said in a statement, “the proposed rule presents a historic opportunity to begin the process of tracing seafood in the U.S., but only if there’s a clear plan toward expanding to all species and extending traceability throughout the entire supply chain, from boat to plate. Consumers have a right to basic information about their seafood, including the species name, and how and where it was caught or farmed.”
On average, about 1/3 of seafood examined in Oceana’s studies was mislabeled. Threatened species are sold as sustainable species. Expensive varieties are replaced with cheaper alternatives. And fish that can cause illness are substituted in place of those that are safer to eat.