FishWise read the recent Oceana study on nationwide seafood fraud and compiled the highlights of the 70-page report for you here. In the bullet points following each seafood summary, we provide suggestions on how seafood vendors can improve their sourcing and traceability to ensure they are not receiving this mislabeled product.
Oceana staff and supporters purchased 1,247 samples from 674 retail venues (restaurant, grocery, sushi) in metropolitan areas of 21 states. DNA testing was used to resolve the species type of each seafood sample and was then compared to the name on the label/menu for the item. The product was considered to be mislabeled if the name it was marketed under did not match the species name on the FDA Seafood Name list.
The study sampled 46 species of fish, though it focused on salmon, snapper, cod, tuna, sole, halibut and grouper, which made up 80% of the samples. These fish types were sampled more as they are known to be highly mislabeled.
1.Mislabeling rates differed by retail type. Grocery had 18% mislabeling of seafood sampled, restaurants 38% and sushi 74%. It is unknown where these substitutions occurred in the supply chain.
2.Most frequently mislabeled seafood in grocery & seafood markets were: snapper, grouper and cod.
3.Most frequently mislabeled seafood in restaurants were: snapper, cod, Chilean seabass and grouper.
Snapper was mislabeled in many ways. Some snapper mislabeling appears as a more benign substitution of one species of snapper for another. However, more than 75% of the substitution was of a fish not even from the snapper family (Lutjanidae). The most common substitution in this case were rockfish on the west coast and tilapia in sushi venues.
- If you sell snapper on the west coast – review the FDA Seafood Name list to ensure you are labeling true snapper and rockfish correctly. With so many species of snapper and rockfish, this can be difficult.
- If you are receiving snapper fillets (not as easily identified as whole fish), ask your vendor the species of snapper and the catch location & gear type used to harvest the product. This will help to communicate that you want product information to be transparent and that you are checking to ensure you are receiving the product you ordered.
‘White tuna’ was substituted for escolar in a great majority of samples (84%). This poses a health concern as escolar contains a toxin that can cause gastrointestinal problems if eaten in quantities greater than a few ounces. ‘White tuna’ is actually not an acceptable market name for any fresh or frozen tuna, and can only be used with canned tuna.
- If selling fresh and frozen tuna consult the FDA Seafood List for species that can be sold as tuna, bonito, or amberjack.
- Purchase tuna only from reputable suppliers. Request source information about the tuna to help reassure that substitutions are not happening.
- To take things a step further, take DNA samples of the tuna you receive and send them to companies that will test the species for you. See company recommendations in the FishWise traceability white paper. Communicate the results to your customers as a competitive advantage.
As this is the second most consumed fish in the U.S., a significant portion of the sampling effort focused on salmon. Salmon mislabeling was higher in restaurants (20%) and sushi venues (18%) than in grocery (5%). ‘Wild salmon’ was mislabeled 27% of the time and was actually farmed salmon. Conversely, sockeye salmon was infrequently mislabeled.
- Purchase salmon only from reputable suppliers. Request source information about the salmon to help reassure that substitutions are not happening.
- Market the source information to consumers – such as the source fishery or river. This will help communicate to customers that you have done your due diligence in ensuring your product is accurately labeled.
More than 1 in 4 cod samples were mislabeled. Again, grocery had lower mislabeling rates than restaurants. A common substitution was labeling Pacific cod as Atlantic or vice versa. After this, other whitefish – wild and farmed – were substituted, albeit less often, for cod.
Similar to cod, grouper had a 1 in 4 mislabeling rate. Testing revealed king mackerel, Pangasius, perch, weakfish, bream and other groupers being sold incorrectly as grouper.
Eight of 21 samples of Chilean seabass were mislabeled, and opposite of most other mislabeling, rates were higher in grocery than restaurants. Interestingly, this substitution was all about naming. Technically, only the Patagonian toothfish species (Dissostichus eleginoides) can be sold as Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass. The Antarctic species (Dissostichus mawsoni) CANNOT be sold as Chilean seabass and must be sold as toothfish. Every instance of mislabeling in this study was from companies selling the Antarctic species as Chilean seabass, when it should have been sold as toothfish. Additionally, it is important to not label Patagonian toothfish only as ‘seabass’ as this is also mislabeling – it must be labeled as ‘Chilean seabass.’
One in 5 halibut samples were mislabeled. Sushi mislabeling was 100% for halibut, 21% for restaurants, and 4% for grocery. Most substitution was for other types of halibut as only true Pacific and Atlantic halibut can be sold as ‘halibut.’ The fish often called California halibut (Paralichthys californicus) on the west coast must be labeled as ‘flounder’ per the FDA, which led to some of the mislabeling.
Lemon sole was mislabeled the most of all sole and dover sole was only mislabeled once. Fish sold as ‘sole’ were only mislabeled 9% of the time, which makes sense as 32 species can be marketed as ‘sole’ per the FDA Seafood List.
Sushi venues mislabeled yellowtail or hamachi 100% of the time. This is because the species, Seriola quinqueradiata, cannot be sold as yellowtail per the FDA and must instead be labeled ‘amberjack.’
Other fishes to keep an eye on that were mislabeled in this study were orange roughy, ono, butterfish, sanddab, and rockfish. In the small amount of sampling in this study, mahi mahi, swordfish, tilapia, and farmed Atlantic salmon were accurately labeled.
To learn more about ways to improve seafood traceability in your supply chain, download the FishWise white paper on seafood traceability.
Click here to download the original Oceana report.
Burlington, VT – City Market has partnered with FishWise, a non-profit organization focused on the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems, to develop and implement a new sustainable seafood program.
“Our goal is to source more sustainable seafood and share “Best Choice” information with customers to help them make informed decisions. We’re excited to work with FishWise to help us attain those goals,” says Clem Nilan, City Market’s General Manager.
Through its new seafood program, City Market has strengthened its commitment to offering customers sustainable seafood by improving sourcing, staff training and educational materials for customers. Seafood sourced through the program will now bear a “Best Choice” tag, indicating that they come from well-managed sources that minimize the environmental impacts of harvesting or farming, according to the scientific criteria of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. City Market’s Meat & Seafood Department staff have also undergone extensive training to support the new program, meaning customers can feel comfortable asking any questions about the origin, quality and type of seafood at the seafood counter.
“FishWise is excited to work with City Market in highlighting the most sustainable seafood options for its dedicated and conscientious customers,” William Wall, Business Project Manager for FishWise said. “More than 4,000 daily visitors count on City Market for the best in conventional, organic and local products and we are very proud to help them make informed choices.”
The addition of a sustainable seafood program to City Market is an extension of existing commitments to the environment including the solar panels on their roof, updated and energy efficient LED lighting throughout the store, and a reduction of waste sent to the landfill through composting and recycling projects.
The agreement between City Market and FishWise is consistent with the Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable Seafood. The Common Vision is an ambitious but realistic guide to environmentally responsible seafood for businesses. It was developed by more than fifteen of North America’s leading ocean conservation organizations.
About City Market, Onion River Co-op
The Onion River Co-op is a consumer cooperative, with over 8,600 members, selling wholesome food and other products while building a vibrant, empowered community and a healthier world, all in a sustainable manner. Located in downtown Burlington, Vermont, City Market provides a large selection of local, natural and conventional foods, and thousands of local and Vermont-made products. Visit City Market, Onion River Co-op online at www.CityMarket.coop or call 802-861-9700.
As the global human population continues to rise, the world’s appetite for seafood steadily increases. However, the oceans’ supply is becoming exhausted. For us humans to continue feasting on the delights of seafood, methods of producing seafood are having to change, with the role of fish farming, aka aquaculture, becoming ever more important. As we make the shift from consuming predominantly wild caught seafood to farmed, we are addressing engineering feats that will hopefully be able to provide food for generations to come. The documentary ‘Fish Meat’ takes an in depth look at the different techniques currently employed by the aquaculture industry and the challenges we are facing as production levels increase.
Dr. Ted Caplow, environmental engineer, and Dr. Andy Danylchuk, fish ecologist, collaborate with filmmaker Joe Cunningham as they travel to Turkey and explore a variety of fish farming methods. As we approach the inevitable of farmed seafood being the primary means of seafood production, it is a struggle for consumers to know what to eat. The ‘Fish Meat’ team visits five farming operations as a way to illustrate the different options, in an objective light.
The first farm they visit is a high-density sea bass farm where the fish are suspended in large pens in the open ocean and feed on pellets. To produce one-pound of fish, three to four-pounds of feed is needed. This operation relies on wild fish from South America for the pellets and net-pen production has several inherent environmental risks, such as the risk of fish escaping to the wild, fish waste polluting surrounding water bodies and diseases from farmed fish spreading to wild populations.
The most high-tech operation looked at was a bluefin tuna ranch. Using the ‘ranching ‘ technique, this highly prized fish is first caught in the wild then grown to market size in open net pens. The fish eat only a fraction of the feed before it passes through the net and settles on the seafloor, where it attracts surrounding wildlife looking for a free meal. This raises concerns over the spread of disease and bacteria and, because the fish are caught before they are able to spawn, there are concerns that this farming technique could negatively impact the future generations of tuna.
They then explore an inland seabass farm that uses saltwater drawn from a local spring and a trout farm that uses the same recycled water for several different stages of the operation. These methods cause less impact on the environment than the net-pen seabass and ranched tuna, however, the feed still relies on wild fish input.
Lastly, an inland carp operation is presented that applies some centuries-old farming methods. A local windmill powers the tanks’ operational systems, the feed is locally-grown algae, and the fish waste is used as fertilizer for a local farm. All steps in the farming process have minimal impact on the surrounding area.
‘Fish Meat’ invites its viewers to take a look at the different farming methods, and begin to identify the more responsible operations. Environmentally speaking, the best system should be one that generates a high output with minimal input, farms a seafood species that is vegetarian or omnivorous, uses minimal energy, and generates minimal pollution, while preventing fish escapes and the spread of disease.
Humans have accomplished countless feats of engineering, and will continue to do so. This film reminds us that the domestication of our food is an age-old tradition, and sometimes it’s best to look to the past before approaching the future. Let’s embrace solutions that don’t create more problems!
‘Fish Meat’ is screened nationally and can be purchased on it’s website.
What do rhinoceroses, elephants, and bluefin tuna have in common? They are all species that are difficult to conserve due to their high price tag. Rhino horns can reach around $30,000 per pound for their claimed medicinal benefits and unlikely ability to cure cancer. In Nigeria, elephant tusks can sell for about $200 per pound as raw materials for carved items like ivory bangles, combs, and chopsticks. Due to their high demand, poaching rates of these endangered animals have significantly increased in recent years.
This year, a single bluefin tuna fetched a record price of $ 1.76 million (around $3,600 per pound) on the auction floor in Tsukiji fish market, Japan. Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of a sushi restaurant chain in Japan and the winning bidder, was not just buying a fish with this 488-pound Bluefin - he was also buying prestige.
Historically, tuna was considered a low-class food and low-grade sushi. Its red meat was quick to spoil and develop a strong odor. Over the years, sushi chefs developed techniques to mellow the bloody taste of tuna by covering it with soy sauce or burying it for days prior to serving. With the development of longline fishing techniques post World War II and the cheap access to imported bluefin tuna from the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, the demand for tuna began to rise. Today, Pacific bluefin tuna populations have dropped by 96.4% from their unfished levels, yet unlike poaching rhino horns or elephant tusks, fishing for bluefin tuna is still legal.
Most of us do not have the ability to go out and stop people from poaching or fishing unsustainably, so what can we do? We can control what we buy. We can commit to be conscious consumers by investigating products before purchasing. Some key actions we can take are:
- Not buying any exotic medicines that sound too good to be true and make claims that are not supported by science
- Questioning any animal based products and seeking information on their raw materials
- Using your Seafood Watch guide and asking about the source of your tuna or any seafood you are eating
Hopefully, by purchasing responsibly we are setting good examples for our family and friends. Being responsible isn’t always convenient, but we owe it to ourselves and to the next generation of every species on earth to do our due diligence and be mindful of our impacts.
King crab is amongst some of winter’s finest offerings from the sea. Yet before you enjoy a much-deserved crab dinner, you might want to double check to ensure your crab source is legal! King crabs are primarily found in the frigid northern waters of the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands. The U.S. and Russia provide the majority of king crab for U.S. markets, however, Russian sources are plagued with a surplus of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) crab. This season alone, for example, U.S. and Japanese buyers have purchased almost double the metric tonnage allotted for Russia’s 2012 total allowable catch (TAC). Due to these management concerns, Russian king crab is currently rated on the Red list of species to avoid by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The good news for crab lovers is that responsibly sourced king crab is available… just make sure it is from U.S. fisheries!