There’s Something Fishy Going on with the Seafood Industry

Did You Know…that one-third of fish in the United States is mislabeled and rife with health threats?

Who knew fish fraud was such big business?  The nonprofit ocean protection group Oceana genetically tested 1,215 fish samples taken from 674 retail outlets in 21 different states across America.

The fraudulent results were shocking!

The Nitty Gritty

Approximately 1/3 (or 33%) of the 1,215 fish samples purchased from 2010 to 2012 were incorrectly labeled.  Oceana uncovered some type of fraud in every location tested.  The most egregious offenses are listed below:

  • Southern California: 52% mislabeled
  • Austin and Houston: 49% mislabeled
  • Boston: 48% mislabeled (includes results from a study conducted by the Boston Globe)
  • NYC: 39% mislabeled
  • Northern California and south Florida: 38% mislabeled

The Tuna Hoax 

Considering the state of the world’s tuna supply, it’s a wonder tuna is so cheap, especially when it comes to packaged sushi.  Herein lies the hoax.  Think you’re eating tuna?  There’s a 59% chance you aren’t! 

In Chicago, Austin, New York City and Washington D.C.,every single sushi restaurant participated in the tuna hoax and sold mislabeled tuna.

Oceana’s study revealed that 84% of fish labeled white tuna is actually a snake mackerel called escolar that contains a naturally occurring toxin that causes prolonged and uncontrollable oily anal leakage.  In NYC, 94% of all tuna samples taken from grocery stores, sushi bars, and other restaurants were wrongly labeled. 

Red Snapper Alert 

Only seven out of 120 red snapper samples tested were correctly labeled.  The 87% mislabeled fish were actually made up of 28 different species, 17 of which weren’t even in the red snapper family! 

In New York, king mackerel and tilefish—notorious for their high mercury content and on federal advisory lists for sensitive populations—are commonly labeled as red snapper and halibut.  Eating mislabeled red snapper replete with mercury can have dire health consequences, especially for pregnant women. 

Fish Swapping 

While only 7% of salmon was mislabeled according to Oceana’s study, two-thirds of salmon labeled “wild” is actually farm-raised Atlantic salmon, far less healthy and environmentally sustainable!  Oceana determine that 19% to 38% of halibut, grouper, cod and sea bass are mislabeled. 

How in the world can consumers make eco-friendly purchasing decisions, when labels are duping them? 

Who Is Accountable? 

Is it the retailer who is stealthily mislabeling fish and marking up prices?  Or does culpability fall on the wholesaler… or start at the fishing docks?  There may be multiple players involved in the fraud. 

Until we know the source (or sources) of the fraud, the FDA could certainly tighten up the inspection process.  More than 90% of fish is exported, but the FDA inspects only 2% of imports and less than 1% of exports are specifically checked for fraud!

The only way to know what type of fish you’re really consuming requires a tracking and accountability system that traces and verifies seafood sold from the boat all the way to the plate.  Unfortunately, no such system exists. 

In the Meantime… 

Of the grocery stores, sushi bars, and restaurants tested, sushi bars fared the worst, with three-fourths selling mislabeled fish.  Grocery stores ranked the most trustworthy with 18% incorrectly labeled, and other restaurants clocked in at 38% mislabeled.  It seems the days of just looking at the label are behind us, as we fight for a future in which we can trust the claims of fisherman, retailers and the seafood industry as a whole.