Using DNA to Fight Seafood Fraud

Created on Thursday, 09 February 2017


Photo credit: FDA

Consumers know that coffee is coffee and chocolate is chocolate, but do they always know what they get when purchasing seafood? With so much variety and product formats, it can be easy to mislabel a seafood product or substitute one species for another – also known as seafood fraud or seafood substitution. With each processing stage a product goes through, it becomes more and more difficult to identify the species. Swapping one fish for another can have health implications for consumers as some fish contain toxins or allergens; it can undermine current conservation efforts; make it difficult for consumers to make sustainable choices; and perpetuate the trade of vulnerable, endangered, and/or exploited species.

global analysis suggested that upwards of 30% of seafood products are mislabeled or inaccurately described. Traceable and accurate supply chains are critical to addressing problems of unsustainable fishing and safeguarding seafood supplies. Twice a year, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) conducts DNA tests on random seafood samples to monitor the effectiveness of its traceability system and guard against seafood mislabeling. Compared against a barcode database of all known species, and regardless of what form the product is in, the MSC’s DNA testing program isolates and identifies the unique DNA barcode of a seafood sample and references it against the product label for verification. This offers an accurate means of verifying the authenticity of seafood products.

From ocean to plate: How DNA testing helps ensure traceable, sustainable seafood revealed 99.6% of MSC-labelled seafood is correctly labeled. Independently sampling over 250 unique products (including herring, Pacific salmon, Pacific and Atlantic cod, haddock, sardines, and pollock) from 16 different countries, the results of this latest study were supportive in maintaining the positive benefits that the MSC’s Chain of Custody program can have on seafood supply chains. This program not only provides authenticated sustainable seafood – contributing to a healthier marine ecosystem – but can also offer a unique selling point for businesses, allowing them to meet an increasing demand for sustainable seafood.

In combination with seafood product tracebacks and supply chain audits, the MSC’s DNA testing program is used to monitor the effectiveness of its Chain of Custody program and verify the authenticity of products which carry its label. While there are occasional limits to the DNA testing process (e.g. preserving and processing seafood can sometimes denature DNA), the results of this study are encouraging. The MSC seeks to address these limitations, and use other measures such as tracebacks and audits, to ensure the integrity of its certified seafood.

As global rates of seafood substitution and fraud increase, supply chain traceability schemes have become more important to verify accuracy and at times, legality, of seafood products. Although MSC-certified seafood represents only about 10% of global fisheries yield, FishWise recognizes that the MSC’s certification standards are one of many important tools for assessing seafood sustainability and accountability.

It is important to continue traceability efforts within the private and public sectors. As the most highly traded food commodity in the world, seafood is both in high demand but also part of especially complex, global supply chains. FishWise continues its work with retail partners, industry groups, NGOs, as well as the U.S. government, to ensure the highest standards are being sought out and ideally implemented for end-to-end, electronic, and interoperable traceability within seafood supply chains.

To learn more about FishWise’s traceability services, please visit our services page.

FishWise Releases Traceability and Social Responsibility White Papers Aimed at Strengthening Efforts in the Seafood Industry

Created on Wednesday, 01 February 2017

Santa Cruz, Calif. (February 1, 2017) – Sustainable seafood consultancy FishWise releases two updated white papers aimed at improving sustainability and social responsibility throughout seafood supply chains. The papers serve as comprehensive references to help conservation and human rights NGOs, businesses, and other experts and stakeholders improve human rights and traceability in the seafood industry.

The first white paper, Social Responsibility in the Global Seafood Industry, outlines the drivers of human rights and labor abuses, identifies social responsibility resources for businesses, and provides information on key legislation and initiatives. The paper’s release comes at a crucial time, given media coverage documenting trafficking and forced labor in some seafood supply chains over the past few years. This update contains summaries of new social responsibility initiatives as well as contact information that can help companies, NGOs, and other groups working to prevent labor risks connect and collaborate.

“Collaboration is critical because no one government, company, or NGO has the influence to eliminate human rights abuses on their own,” said Mariah Boyle, Traceability Division Director at FishWise. “It will take an organized and sustained effort across sectors to achieve meaningful improvements.”

FishWise’s updated traceability white paper, Advancing Traceability in the Seafood Industry, echoes the call for ongoing collaboration. Traceability – a term that describes the ability to track the flow of products and product transformations throughout the supply chain – has become the focus of much attention within the seafood sector. In particular, the European Union and the United States have both recently instituted counter-illegal fishing regulations requiring increased record keeping and reporting for select imported seafood products. These regulations, building upon those addressing food safety, have prompted companies around the globe to make improvements to their product tracking systems and to initiate conversations within their supply chains. FishWise’s white paper highlights many key traceability initiatives, and outlines next steps all types of businesses can take to improve their traceability practices.

“It is an exciting time to be working on seafood traceability. New government requirements, novel efforts by individual companies, new NGO collaborations, and pre-competitive initiatives by private sector leaders are all focusing on this critical foundation of seafood supply chains,” said Boyle. “By sharing examples and providing guidance, we hope our white paper will empower more supply chains to make traceability improvements.”

About FishWise

FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy based in Santa Cruz, CA. Uniquely positioned between the seafood industry and marine conservation organizations, FishWise offers a range of services that empower businesses and a diverse community of collaborators to lead the transition to a sustainable, responsible seafood industry. For more information, please visit, and follow FishWise’s work on Facebook and Twitter.

Producer Partner Spotlight: Lummi Island Wild

Created on Thursday, 26 January 2017

FishWise is very pleased to officially announce our producer partnership with Lummi Island Wild. Lummi Island Wild, founded in 2002 by longtime fishermen Riley Starks and Dave Hansen, is a seafood cooperative based out of Bellingham, Washington. Lummi Island Wild harvests, purchases, processes, and sells sustainable seafood from the Salish Sea.

The cooperative fishes year-round, in many locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. Aside from sockeye, pink, and keta salmon, the species typically caught include Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified Pacific Albacore tuna, Salish Sea halibut, Pacific cod, spot prawns, Alaska weathervane scallops, and salmon caviar. Lummi Island Wild has two tending vessels, F/V Galactic Ice and the F/V Solar Ice, in addition to two new large refrigerated trucks.

Click here to watch a video of the reefnetting process.

A unique aspect of Lummi Island Wild’s operation is their utilization of traditional Coast Salish reefnets to selectively catch salmon. Salish tribes, most notably the Lummi Tribe, had been using the reefnet method for centuries, with established fishing grounds dispersed throughout the San Juan Islands. Although forced to abandon traditional reefnet fishing in the early 1900s when Europeans installed large fish traps that intercepted salmon, Lummi fishermen have reinstituted the method as recently as 2014. Salmon reefnetters catch sockeye and pink salmon during summer months and coho and keta salmon during the fall months in Legoe Bay on Lummi Island. All of the reefnet gears operated by Lummi Island Wild became solar powered in 2007, making them the first solar powered wild salmon fishery in the world. The exceptional reverence and care taken by fishermen during the handling process sets the quality of Lummi Island salmon apart. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program designated Lummi Island Wild salmon a Green rated Best Choice option in 2013, the first and only Green rated wild salmon fishery outside of Alaska.

FishWise Project Manager Meg Songer traveled to Lummi Island last summer to become better acquainted the Lummi Island Wild family and with the co-op’s operations. Partners Riley Starks, Keith Carpenter, Tom Munroe and fisherman Bryan were all incredibly gracious hosts whose dedication to their craft is abundantly clear. Meg was invited to observe and assist aboard the custom-built tender F/V Galactic Ice on the tribal opening day of Dungeness crab season. The learning experiences and relationships established on this visit were invaluable for Meg and for FishWise.

Lummi Island Wild’s mission is to promote the respectful and responsible harvesting of wild salmon to protect the environment for future generations of fish and people, all the while helping to revive the cultural technique of reefnetting. Furthermore, the Lummi Island Wild story is rooted in complete traceability throughout the supply chain. Keeping this traceability story intact is of utmost importance to the crew and owners. The future is looking bright for Lummi Island Wild as their capacity to take on new business continues to grow and as they build and strengthen relationships with industry leaders in seafood sustainability.

To learn more about this producer, please contact us or visit If you are interested in placing an order, please contact Riley Starks directly at

Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Increases Safety Standards for Fisheries Observers Working Aboard Fishing Vessels

Created on Wednesday, 18 January 2017


Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

In late 2016, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) took a step forward in improving fisheries management by adopting a new set of Agreed Minimum Standards and Guidelines of the Regional Observer Program and Conservation and Management Measures (CMM) for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers. Fisheries observers have frequently been cited as an important solution to preventing illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, as well as an additional safeguard against egregious human rights abuses. Unfortunately, the challenging and sometimes dangerous conditions that observers face in order to fulfill their duties are less well-known. The Association for Professional Observers has highlighted cases of assault, intimidation, unsafe work conditions, and even murder of observers for simply conducting their duties.

The new minimum standards and guidelines adopted by the WCPFC contain measures to improve the safety and working conditions for observers aboard fishing vessels participating in the WCPFC’s observer program. The standards call for minimum requirements to be met by observer providers, observer programs, and WCPFC participating fishing nations in supporting and training observers, as well as standards for their safety. The latter includes a now mandatory emergency action plan for observers to specifically handle instances of intimidation, harassment, assault, and other safety issues; the provision of an independent two-way communications system; and emergency safety beacon.

In addition to the new standards, the WCPFC has also implemented a new set of Conservation Management Measures (CMM), which provides protocols to the flag states of fishing vessels participating in the WCPFC to address instances of assault, intimidation, harassment, and death of observers. In particular, it requires flag states to immediately take action to preserve the safety of the observer if they are in danger. Instances of abuse can be reported during or after the voyage, and flag states are required to fully cooperate in any resulting investigations.

Looking ahead, the new agreed minimum standards and guidelines and CMM are a positive step in addressing the safety of observers in the line of duty. By promoting a safe working environment, observers will be more empowered to act as safeguards against instances of IUU fishing and possible human rights abuses at sea. Those who support the important role of observers in the sustainable and ethical management of fisheries should applaud the move by the WCPFC while pushing for further safeguards for observers in WCPFC’s program and elsewhere.

For more information about the WCPFC Agreed Minimum Standards and Guidelines of the Regional Observer Program and Conservation and Management Measures (CMM) for the Protection of WCPFC Regional Observer Program Observers, please contact

Landmark Fishing and Human Rights Treaty to Enter into Force

Created on

(Last Updated: January 18th 2017)

Photo credit: FAO

What happened?

On November 16th 2016, Lithuania became the tenth country to ratify the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention 2007, No. 188 (C188), meeting the minimum threshold of ten ratifications needed to enter into force in November 2017. This is a major step in the fight to eliminate human rights abuses at sea as the convention will be the first international treaty in force that specifically addresses the labor conditions of fishermen at sea.

The countries that have ratified C188 at the time of writing are: Angola, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Morocco, Norway, and South Africa.

Why is this important?

Fishermen at sea had previously been exempt from almost all international maritime labor treaties addressing the safety and fair treatment of workers at sea. This has left fishermen vulnerable to egregious human rights abuses by unscrupulous fishing companies, captains, and recruitment agencies. C188 seeks to close this gap by mandating minimum labor standards for all fishermen aboard all fishing vessels flying the flag of nations that have ratified the convention.

The convention includes requirements that support human rights at sea such as: fisher’s work agreement (contract) for all fishermen; minimum rest periods; standards for recruitment (including no fees in recruitment process); regular payment of wages; and minimum living and working conditions. The convention also clearly defines the responsibilities of the captain and vessel owner in ensuring the fair treatment of workers.

To supplement C188, the ILO also created the Work in Fishing Recommendation 2007, No. 199 which provides non-binding guidelines to implement the new requirements.

What next?

Seafood companies and civil society should urge nations with large fishing fleets to ratify the convention. As the convention aims to address many of the concerns raised by fishermen regarding their ethical treatment, it has the potential to significantly improve human rights protections for workers on fishing vessels. Additionally, because of the possible links between illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and egregious human rights abuses at sea, the convention could impact sustainability. By ratifying and/or supporting the treaty, countries and businesses will be sending a signal that they are committed to instilling ethical conduct aboard fishing vessels and sustainable fisheries.

For more information about the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, 2007, please contact

Welcome Chase Martin!

Created on


Hello FishWise readers!

I’m Chase Martin and I am thrilled to join the FishWise team as the Communications Project Manager. I will be leading FishWise’s internal and external communications activities to amplify our mission and drive storytelling around our work in seafood sustainability.

My love for the ocean and seafood was influenced by my childhood in the American deep south, where I grew up fishing the salt marshes of the Georgia coast and hunting for shark teeth along the beaches of eastern Florida.

I bring to FishWise a unique background in communications and marine conservation. My original plans to become a marine biologist took a turn when I majored in Journalism at the University of Georgia, but my passion came full circle when I completed my M.A.S. in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where I concentrated my studies on fisheries and seafood sustainability. My research culminated in a genetic analysis of octopus specimens from Southern California seafood markets, detailing which species were present and the possible fisheries, taxonomic, and resource implications of these products. After grad school, I worked in the communications department of Conservation International’s D.C. office, where I focused on media relations and press outreach around CI’s conservation work. I am very excited to have the opportunity to combine my communications skills and passion for the ocean through my position at FishWise.

As most ocean lovers, I enjoy being in the water whenever I can, whether it’s bodyboarding, swimming, freediving, or paddle boarding. I also enjoy cooking (sustainable) seafood and channeling my marine passions through painting and other artistic outlets.

Greenpeace Releases ‘Turn the Tide’: A New Report about Human Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Distant Water Fishing Fleet

Created on Tuesday, 20 December 2016



Photo credit: Cheryl-Samantha Owen

In December 2016, Greenpeace released a new report, “Turn the Tide,” on a 12-month investigation regarding the activities of Thailand’s distant water fishing fleet. This report follows up on previous reports that first revealed egregious human rights abuses aboard Thai fishing vessels, and instigated improvements in fisheries management in Thailand. The investigation found that Thai fishing vessel operators continue to carry out the same human rights abuses previously reported by moving to distant waters where management is weaker.

The report focuses primarily on activities of the Thai fishing fleet in the Saya de Malha Bank in the Indian Ocean and includes extensive interviews with fishermen, fishing operator representatives, and captains. These interviews paint a detailed picture of the human rights violations occurring against fishermen, ranging from debt bondage, human trafficking, forced labor, and malnutrition. The crucial role of transshipment in supporting the conditions that lead to these labor abuses is highlighted in this report.

The report is groundbreaking in two ways:

  • It links Thai vessels supplying the global tuna supply chain to human rights abuses.
  • It highlights the family owned fishing companies that operate the vessels carrying out human rights abuses, including names, structure, and their influence in Thailand’s seafood industry.


While emphasizing that more needs to be done, the investigation acknowledges the positive steps taken by governments (including Thailand) and the seafood industry, and provides a series of recommendations to remedy the situation.

To assist companies in understanding and integrating the findings of this report, FishWise has drafted a briefing on this issue that you can review here.

For more information on this brief and report, please contact

IUU Task Force Finalizes U.S. Seafood Traceability Program

Created on Monday, 19 December 2016

After two years in development, The Presidential Task Force for Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud has finalized the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) – a national seafood traceability program that will apply to select seafood products entering U.S. commerce beginning January 1, 2018.

Though data collection is currently limited to 15 priority species, the program may be expanded to all species in the future. Traceability information about product sources and chain of custody will be submitted electronically by the importer of record. Though this program does not track product chain of custody after entry into U.S. commerce (not full-chain traceability), it is an important step towards more traceable seafood supply chains.

Many Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions organizations have contributed to the development and design of the new program via multiple rounds of public comments and consultation. FishWise has created a brief on the SIMP available here, and will continue to track the development of this program.



IUU Task Force Releases Action Plan to Build Capacity to Fight IUU Fishing

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Background on Recommendation 6

The Presidential Task Force on Combatting Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud was established by Executive Memorandum in 2014 and directed to develop recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud through a coordinated inter-agency effort. Recommendation 6 addresses the need for international capacity building efforts to strengthen fisheries management and combat IUU fishing “in consultation with relevant government, donor, technical, industry, and non-governmental organizations, and with appropriate public outreach.” Through the implementation of Recommendation 6, international capacity can be built to not only combat IUU fishing but also human rights and labor abuses, which are often inextricably linked.


The Task Force Recommendation 6 Working Group (WG) recently released a Strategic Action Plan for Building International Capacity to Strengthen Fisheries Management and Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. This Plan presents a framework for building international capacity needed to achieve legal and sustainable fisheries, while recognizing that capacity building must focus on systems, organizations, and individuals in order to foster the institutions, technologies, human resources, and political will required to address these issues. The Action plan identifies important short and long-term U.S. government activities for combatting IUU fishing at an international scale (summarized in Annex A). The Plan focuses on six broad strategies:

  1. Enhancing industry and market incentives for self-regulation
  2. Fostering greater transparency in fisheries management and supply chains
  3. Strengthening fisheries governance and management
  4. Building enforcement capabilities and effectiveness
  5. Leveraging political will and fostering genuine constituencies
  6. Promoting stronger coordination in capacity building 


Additionally, the Working Group consulted with experts to develop a conceptual model of the drivers of IUU fishing, and to identify leverage points for affecting change (see page 4 of report). These leverage points, in turn, informed the strategies and short and long-term activities to be implemented. To address the sixth priority and improve information exchange about existing and planned projects USID has launched a new interactive online inventory of capacity building projects. Anyone can access the inventory and register and submit information about a capacity project for inclusion.

Many of the initiatives undertaken by the members and collaborators of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions align with the strategies it outlines. FishWise has created a summary brief about the action plan which can be accessed at the link below.

paper-download FishWise Brief on IUU Task Force Recommendation 6



FishWise Visits StarKist in American Samoa

Created on Saturday, 03 December 2016

Photo Credit: Elsie Tanadjaja

In November and December of 2015, FishWise staff Mariah Boyle and Elsie Tanadjaja went on a trip to the South Pacific to learn more about tuna fisheries. Tuna is the third most consumed seafood in the U.S., with fresh and frozen offerings in steaks and sashimi along with the American staple of canned tuna. Tuna are impressive fish – they are large, migrate throughout the world’s oceans, and have specialized physiology to swim quickly and regulate their body temperatures. Mariah and Elsie visited several countries and many companies during their trip. One of these companies was StarKist, based in American Samoa.

StarKist has not only been a household name on the mainland, but has had a long history in American Samoa as well. Established in 1963, the StarKist cannery has become the largest private employer in American Samoa, representing approximately half of the island’s workforce. In fact, StarKist’s American Samoa cannery is the largest cannery in the world, producing over 60% of the island’s canned tuna. American Samoa plays a vital role in canned tuna production and the local economy depends on the canning industry in return.

StarKist’s parent company, Dongwon Industries based in South Korea, is one the world’s largest tuna processing companies with a forty-two vessel fleet. While visiting the facility, Mariah and Elsie were able to board one of company’s massive reefer carriers which stood three-stories tall!

Mariah and Elsie also had the opportunity to learn about StarKist’s efforts in sustainable and socially responsible fishing practices. As a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), StarKist works with ISSF scientists and industry members to support science-based conservation initiatives for the sustainability of tuna stocks and healthy ecosystems. StarKist also engages in multiple efforts to address potential risks for human trafficking and forced labor in its supply chains, such as contracting third-party audits of major suppliers for compliance in counter-human trafficking and anti-slavery laws.

FishWise would like to extend a warm ‘thank you’ to StarKist for their hospitality and for welcoming our staff to tour the facility and learn more about its operations. Gaining a better understanding of StarKist’s scale of operation and contributions to the local economy sheds light on the work we do at FishWise and continues a positive and forward-thinking dialogue on how important it is to continue implementing and improving upon tuna sustainability and traceability within the industry.

FishWise would like to extend a warm ‘thank you’ to StarKist for their hospitality and for welcoming our staff to tour the facility and learn more about its operations. Gaining a better understanding of StarKist’s scale of operation and contributions to the local economy sheds light on the work we do at FishWise and continues a positive and forward-thinking dialogue on how important it is to continue implementing and improving upon tuna sustainability and traceability within the industry.