Campaign | Oceana USA

Seafood Fraud

Seafood Fraud: Stopping the Bait and Switch

Ensuring that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled by promoting transparency and traceability of the seafood supply.

The Campaign

Seafood is a popular food in the United States, yet consumers are routinely given little or no information about the seafood they eat. The information they are given can be misleading which impacts consumers, public health, fishermen, honest seafood businesses and the oceans. Oceana is working to require traceability for all seafood which will help to prevent seafood mislabeling and keep illegally caught fish out of the U.S. market while providing more information to consumers about their seafood purchases.

Seafood is a global commodity traded all over the world, following a long, complex and non-transparent supply chain. It also serves as an important source of protein for millions of people every day. However, seafood fraud and species substitutions occur regularly, cheating consumers out of what they ordered and putting public health and the oceans at risk. In addition, seafood fraud allows illegally caught fish to be laundered into the legal seafood trade.

Seafood fraud is a global problem: It has been studied and found all over the world.  Oceana is leading the way by exposing seafood fraud through extensive DNA testing and in campaigning for policy change to establish traceability requirements that would result in fish being tracked from boat to plate in order to bring transparency to the seafood supply chain, help prevent seafood mislabeling and fraud and stamp out markets for illegally fished products. 

  • A 2013 Oceana study found that 33 percent of the fish samples we tested were mislabeled.
  • Seafood fraud creates a market for illegally caught fish.
  • Seafood fraud can directly threaten human health.

Seafood Fraud Mapped

What is the path our seafood takes?

Commonly Mislabeled Seafood

What Oceana Does

Our Work

Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In 2013, Oceana released one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33 percent) of the 1,215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. In 2014, Oceana focused on the misrepresentation of America’s favorite seafood—shrimp. In the report, Oceana found 30 percent of shrimp samples tested to be misrepresented. In 2015, Oceana revealed the mislabeling of the iconic Chesapeake blue crab. A local favorite, Oceana discovered 38 percent of crab cakes sampled in the Chesapeake region were mislabeled. In addition to testing seafood, Oceana has compiled more than 100 studies on seafood mislabeling and species substitutions, the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date. Our findings demonstrate that comprehensive requirements for transparency and traceability–ones that track fish from boat to plate–must be established at the national level. At the same time, robust catch documentation, increased inspections and testing of our seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combating fraud and illegal fishing are needed to reverse these disturbing trends. Oceana's research has generated widespread media coverage interest in the press and has supported its policy work. Most recently Oceana’s successful campaigning helped to convince President Obama to establish a task force charged with developing recommendations, including domestic and international measures, to stop seafood fraud and end global illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Steps Needed to End Seafood Fraud

All seafood sold in the United States must be safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. Traceability, or tracking seafood from the ocean to your dinner plate, is key to protecting consumers, fishermen, honest seafood businesses and the oceans. Catch documentation- Information that shows that a fish was legally caught or originated at a legal aquaculture facility needs to be collected and follow the fish through the supply chain. Key data points to provide include the who, what, when, where and how of fishing such as the species name, where the fish was caught or farmed, whether it was farmed or wild caught, etc.

Full chain traceability- The catch documentation needs to be associated with the seafood product and remain with that product through the supply chain. Boat to plate traceability will help track the seafood, allow regulators to verify the product and give businesses and consumers more confidence in the seafood they buy.

Consumer information- Consumers have the right to know more about the seafood they purchase including what species of fish it is, whether it was farmed or wild-caught, where it was caught or farmed, and how it was caught. This information allows consumers to make more informed seafood choices.

The President’s Task Force on combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud provides a real opportunity to coordinate the many federal agencies that share responsibility for seafood safety, fishery management, illegal wildlife trade, international trade and the seafood supply chain. By using all of the authorities of the federal government, the United States can craft a solution that ensures that only safe, legally caught and honestly labeled seafood is sold in the United States.

Up Next: