Ocean advocacy group urges crackdown on 'seafood fraud'

Ocean advocacy group urges crackdown on 'seafood fraud'
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Oceana, an ocean conservation and advocacy organization, says one out of every five fish tested is mislabeled and is calling on the government to expand rules to track the source of seafood.

The group is using a new fraud investigation to draw attention to the issue of boat-to-plate seafood traceability, which advocates say is essential to preventing illegal fishing or fraud.

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An investigation tested 449 samples of seafood, all of which were not included under an existing federal program to monitor the sources of seafood. The samples came from 24 states and Washington, D.C., between March and August 2018.

The government in 2018 established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, but the program only applies to 13 seafood types, tracing them from the boat, or farm, to the U.S. border. 

“It’s clear that seafood fraud continues to be a problem in the U.S., and our government needs to do more to tackle this once and for all,” Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns, said in a press release Thursday.

“Seafood fraud ultimately deceives consumers who fall victim to a bait and switch, disguises conservation and health risks, and hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses," she added. "Seafood traceability — from boat to plate — is critical to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.”

The investigation also found that one of every three establishments Oceana visited sold mislabeled seafood and that seafood was more frequently mislabeled at restaurants than at chain grocery stores. Additionally, sea bass and snapper were the two fish with the highest rates of mislabeling.

“After testing nearly 2,000 samples from more than 30 states since we began our investigations into seafood fraud, it never ceases to astonish me that we continue to uncover troubling levels of deception in the seafood we feed our families,” Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana, said in the release. “For the sake of ours and the ocean’s health, more needs to be done to tackle this problem.”

Oceana started investigating seafood fraud in 2010 and has been urging lawmakers to act. 

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Bipartisan group of senators urges FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote MORE (R-Alaska) is a leading proponent of fish labeling.

She introduced a bill this Congress with bipartisan support that specifically focuses on salmon. The Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act would ensure that any salmon that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled.

“If you order red snapper at a restaurant, you should get red snapper. If you found out it was something else, you would rightly be angry. But what if you also found out that the fish you ate may have been caught illegally, or had been imported when you thought it was caught locally?” Warner, Lowell and the other authors wrote in the report.

"Seafood mislabeling can also cover up fish caught or raised with fishing or farming methods that can harm the environment," the report says.