Early in our history, Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell uncovered seafood fraud while showing Andrew Weil, M.D. around Manhattan’s famed Fulton Fish Market … see “Salmon Buyer Beware”.
Randy alerted The New York Times’ lead food writer, Marion Burros, to his discovery … a tip that prompted the paper’s subsequent expose, “NY Times Calls Wild Salmon a Gamble”.
Sadly, little has changed, with several recent cases of seafood fraud and malfeasance bringing the warning “buyer beware” to mind.
Last May, we summarized the results of two reports on seafood fraud that found serious flaws in federal agencies’ oversight activities.
Why trust Vital Choice?
Key Vital Choice people – including founder Randy Hartnell – possess a combined six decades of commercial fishing experience in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Frankly, we’re nigh impossible to fool.
And to further ensure the integrity of our offerings, we only purchase from sources we know, we visit every source before buying, and we constantly check the identity and quality of our incoming shipments.
One study came from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and another was issued by the advocacy group Oceana to launch their new “Stop Seafood Fraud” campaign.
And last summer, we detailed an investigation by biology students who DNA-tested 105 samples from restaurants and stores around Washington State’s Puget Sound.
Surprisingly – given the region’s reputation for wild salmon – a whopping 38 percent of the “wild” salmon served in restaurants was revealed as farmed salmon.
Retail stores around Puget Sound were less likely to label farmed salmon as wild, with just seven percent of those samples found fraudulent (see “Salmon Scam Rampant in Restaurants>http://vitalchoice.com/shop/pc/articlesView.asp?id=1480<”).
Despite ongoing efforts by local and state authorities to combat seafood mislabeling, fraud remains as much a rule as an exception.
Seafood fraud continues unabated
Seafood scams are perpetrated by some wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and restaurants … often deliberately, and often out of ignorance or lack of due diligence.
And a series of recent DNA investigations by Oceana confirm that fraud is a continuing, frequent problem.
As Oceana says, “… recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod …”.
Three recent tests find fraud from coast to coast
Over the spring and summer of 2012, Oceana released the results of three more DNA surveys of seafood.
Earlier this month, Oceana and The Monterey Weekly reported that 36 percent of seafood samples taken from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in Monterey, California were mislabeled.
The fact that one third of the fish tested were mislabeled in Monterey-- a port town known as a seafood destination-- shows how rampant the problem of seafood fraud has become.
As in the Washington State salmon tests, the biggest surprise was the discovery that restaurants selling a famed local fish – in this case, Monterey Bay sand dabs – were replacing it with an impostor (juvenile flathead sole).
Likewise, in July of 2012 Oceana’s DNA tests showed that 55 percent of the 119 seafood samples it collected from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in Los Angeles and Orange counties were mislabeled.
And this past spring, Oceana’s DNA tests of seafood from South Florida found that 31 percent of the 96 seafood samples they collected from 60 grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues were mislabeled.
Again, Oceana targeted noted regional species – red and yellowtail snapper, grouper, wild salmon, yellowtail and white tuna – many of which had been replaced with other species.
While lower than those found recently by Oceana and others in Los Angeles (55 percent) and Boston (48 percent), the fraud levels uncovered in Monterey, Los Angeles, and South Florida are disturbingly high.
What can you do?
First and foremost, find a fish monger you trust.
We’d like to think that we would qualify … see our sidebar, “Why trust Vital Choice?”
Oceana. Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health. May 25, 2011. Accessed at http://na.oceana.org/sites/default/files/reports/SeafoodFraudReport_2011.pdf
Oceana. 36% of Seafood Sampled Was Mislabeled in Monterey, California. August 2, 2012. Accessed at http://oceana.org/en/news-media/press-center/press-releases/dna-testing-confirms-fraud-in-grocery-stores-restaurants-sushi-venues
Oceana. 31% of Seafood Mislabeled in South Florida. July 23, 2012. Accessed at http://oceana.org/en/news-media/press-center/press-releases/oceana-finds-31-of-seafood-mislabeled-in-south-florida
Oceana. Widespread Seafood Fraud Found in Los Angeles. April 17, 2012. Accessed at http://oceana.org/en/news-media/publications/reports/widespread-seafood-fraud-found-in-los-angeles
United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). Seafood Fraud: FDA Program Changes and Better Collaboration among Key Federal Agencies Could Improve Detection and Prevention. February 2009. Accessed online at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09258.pdf