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Fish Fraud Marches On
Two investigations find continuing bait-and-switch problem


By Craig Weatherby

It says something that our news archive features a section titled “Seafood Labeling & Fraud Issues”.

Now, two new investigations have found that fraud remains rampant in restaurants and supermarkets.

Imported fish – which constitutes about 91 percent of the seafood sold in America – accounts for much of the substitution.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disease outbreaks linked to imported fish have risen in recent years.

Oceana probed New York seafood ... with sorry results
In one probe, the conservation group Oceana conducted genetic analyses on seafood bought in New York City … mostly in Manhattan.

(Last year, Oceana launched a new “Stop Seafood Fraud” campaign based on its report, “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health” … see “Fish Fraud Remains Rampant”.)

Sadly, 39 percent of nearly 150 samples of fresh seafood collected from 81 restaurants and stores were mislabeled:
  • Cheaper fish were substituted for more expensive species.
  • 13 kinds of fish, including tilapia and tilefish, were misidentified as red snapper.
  • Species known to be overfished were advertised as sustainably harvested ones.
  • 94 percent of the fish sold as white (albacore) tuna was escolar, more than a few ounces of which can cause diarrhea.

Surprisingly, compared with regional chains or small specialty markets, national chain supermarkets sold less mislabeled seafood.

Boston Globe finds fraud for a second year running
Last year, the Boston Globe reported that restaurants and stores in Massachusetts were routinely substituting cheaper, lower-quality fish for higher-quality fish.

And a new round of DNA testing shows that most are still mislabeling seafood.

The Globe tested 76 seafood samples from 58 restaurants and markets that sold mislabeled fish in 2011, and found that more than three in four were mislabeled.

The testing focused on species that are most likely to be mislabeled, such as red snapper and cod.

After the Globe's 2011 report, state and federal lawmakers pledged to strengthen oversight of the seafood industry.

The Food and Drug Administration has focused efforts on food safety, rather than economic fraud such as seafood substitution.

The agency began conducting its own DNA testing recently, but hasn't pinpointed where mislabeling typically occurs in the supply chain.

Why trust Vital Choice?
Thanks to decades of fishing northwest and Alaskan waters, we know our seafood very well.
During those decades, we built a network of superior suppliers, so we know where all of our seafood comes from ... and how it gets to us.
For example, Vital Choice North Pacific albacore tuna comes from nearby neighbor Paul Hill ... while our Alaskan seafood comes either from folks we've known for many years or from fishing co-ops and other suppliers we've visited and carefully vetted.
And when we decided to offer premium European sardines and mackerel, we went to Portugal to find our current partner … a venerable, family-run business renowned for integrity and superior quality.
Not surprisingly, our rigorous, highly personal and reliable purchasing practices remain rare among markets and restaurants.
Very few seafood sellers spend the time and focus required to ensure the identity and source of their fish … and in many cases sellers deliberately mislabel seafood to boost profits.

  • Abelson J, Daley B. New round of DNA tests finds dozens of repeat offenders in fish mislabeling. December 10, 2012. Accessed at news/local/massachusetts/2012/12/01/dnasidebar/mao PlTvCRdnKmzKdmhHxpO/story.html
  • Oceana. Widespread Seafood Fraud Found in New York City. December 11, 2012. Accessed at widespread-seafood-fraud-found-in-new-york-city
  • Rosenthal E. Tests Say Mislabeled Fish Is a Widespread Problem. The New York Times. December 11, 2012. Accessed at tests-call-mislabeled-fish-a-widespread-problem-in-new-york.html

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