Behind the Scenes: Seafood Fraud - Oceana USA
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October 3, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Seafood Fraud

October is National Seafood month—the perfect time to dig in to all of the delicious dishes that come from the sea. But before you head to the market, you should read up on the nation-wide issue of seafood fraud.

But what exactly is seafood fraud?  Seafood fraud occurs when the seafood you buy is not what you think it is. The mislabeling can happen at each step of the supply chain: at the restaurant or grocery, at the distributor, or at the processing and packaging phase. Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Report revealed that seafood fraud is pervasive and dangerous, costing consumers money and endangering their health.

In the recent issue of Oceana magazine, Pete Brannen takes a look behind-the-scenes on Oceana’s Seafood Fraud Report. Read an excerpt below, or head over to our online magazine to read the full story.

Before you can change the national conversation on the reliability and safety of the country’s food supply, first you need to figure out how you’re going to pull it off.

Oceana senior scientist Kim Warner sought to find the perfect fish testing kit back in 2010—one that could be sent through the mail to Oceana supporters around the country, one that was self-explanatory, and one that would safely preserve seafood at low cost for DNA testing. Through trial and error, Warner discovered that sending fish preserved in ethanol was considered hazardous by the postal service and that sending thousands of coolers to Oceana supporters to collect and ship frozen samples was simply impractical.

“Though it was considered,” said Warner, laughing.

After settling on a seafood preservation method using non-toxic silica drying beads to preserve the samples at room temperature, the second dilemma was figuring out who would actually volunteer to go through with the time-consuming task of collecting, labeling and shipping fish. While Oceana staff combed the country, discreetly stuffing seafood samples in their purses at restaurants and bringing takeout orders back to makeshift laboratories set up in hotel rooms, more than 300 Oceana supporters across the country heeded the call as well.

“We didn’t think we were going to get hardly anybody to volunteer,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s seafood fraud campaign director. “It was amazing how many people ended up participating.”
Three years later, Oceana released its national seafood fraud report, and blew the lid off the national problem of seafood fraud.