October 25, 2016

Oceana Finds Seafood Fraud Worldwide

Oceana has released a report about seafood fraud around the world. The report, called Deceptive Dishes: Seafood Swaps Found Worldwide, states that seafood fraud is a serious global problem that threatens consumer health.

Red snapper

The review looked at data in 2014, and it shows some promising trends because of recent regulations in the European Union (EU) that are “increasing transparency and traceability as well as addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.” The report states that if the United States adopts comprehensive, full-chain traceability, it will be more difficult for consumers to be misled.

The report states that on average, one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested was mislabeled. Oceana reviewed more than 20 published studies from 55 countries for the report, on every continent except Antarctica. Fraud was found in every sector of the supply chain, including retail, wholesale, distribution, import/expert, packaging/ processing, and landing. You can see an interactive map of global seafood fraud at their site.

In the United States, the President’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud released a proposed rule to address these issues, but for only 13 types of seafood that are most at risk for fraud. Oceana states that this rule should be expanded to include all seafood species sold in the U.S. The report states that of the 60 different misidentified types of seafood, only 26% would be covered by the proposed rule.

Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell said in a statement, “without tracking all seafood throughout the entire supply chain, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking, honest fishermen will be undercut, and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy. 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.”

In the U.S., the average seafood fraud rate is 28%. More than half of the samples were a species that could make people sick. Asian catfish, hake, and escolar were the three types of fish that were most commonly substituted for more expensive species around the world.

The types of fraud noted included substituting a lower value or less desirable seafood item for a more expensive choice, improper labeling, hiding the true origin of seafood products, or adding more breading, water, or glazing to increase the product’s weight. Previous investigations have found that 87% of snapper sampled nationwide in this country were mislabeled. Thirty-three different species of fish were sold under the name “snapper.”

Fifty-eight percent of the samples that were substituted for other species in the analysis pose a health risk to consumers. Those risks included parasites, environmental chemicals, aquaculture drugs, and natural toxins. Those risks include histamine or scombrotoxin poisoning, ciguatera, tetrodotoxin, and gempylotoxin. These compounds can cause serious illness, including nausea, vomiting, neurological problems, paralysis, and death.

One species that is commonly used in place of “white tuna” is escolar. This species has naturally occurring gempylotoxin and has been associated with severe food poisoning outbreaks. There were more than 50 cases of escolar sold as “white tuna” in the U.S. In addition, pufferfish were substituted for squid in Italy, cod in China, and monkfish in Chicago. This species can harbor toxins tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin, which can be deadly at a high enough dose. In fact, a couple in Chicago purchased pufferfish that were mislabeled as something else and were sickened.

Oceana recommends that the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud is at a “critical crossroads,” and should take steps to protect consumers. The government has an opportunity to make sure that all seafood sold here is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.

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