Today, Oceana released a new study that found mislabeling of America’s most popular fish: salmon. Forty-three percent of wild salmon samples bought in winter from grocery stores and restaurants from Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and throughout several cities in Virginia were found to be mislabeled through DNA testing. Most of this fraud consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon masquerading as the higher-value “wild” salmon, ultimately cheating consumers and responsible fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules.
This high level of fraud unfortunately isn’t that shocking to anyone who has been following Oceana’s other reports on species substitution—earlier this year, Oceana uncovered a bait and switch with Maryland crab cakes, with 38 percent of crab cakes tested that were labeled “Maryland,” “blue crab” or “Chesapeake crab,” actually containing imported, foreign crab meat. Last year, Oceana released a shrimp testing report that found similar levels of misrepresentation. Both of these studies followed a report Oceana released in 2012, which found one-third of 1,200 fish samples taken across the country to be mislabeled. Oceana has clearly shown that seafood fraud is a national issue, affecting all types of seafood at every level of the supply chain.
Compared to the rates of salmon mislabeling (7 percent) found in Oceana’s 2012 national seafood fraud study, most of which were taken during the spring and summer when salmon was in-season, the mislabeling in this new report is surprisingly high. To find out whether mislabeling would be more common during the off-season in the winter months, Oceana collected the samples in this study during the winter of 2013-2014, when salmon were out-of-season. What this really shows is that whether or not a consumer is getting the salmon they paid for is truly dependent on when they buy their fish, as salmon purchased out-of-season were three times more likely to be mislabeled than those purchased in-season.
When consumers think they’re opting for a sustainably managed and more expensive wild-caught salmon, this report shows that there is a high likelihood they’re getting ripped off with a farmed or lower-value Atlantic product on their dinner plate. Part of this may be due to the “black box” that salmon enters once it is exported for processing—although U.S. fishermen catch enough to satisfy 80 percent of America’s salmon demand, 70 percent of that catch is exported instead of going directly to American restaurants or grocery stores. It’s truly anyone’s guess how much of that wild domestic salmon then makes its way back to the U.S. after foreign processing, as without traceability in the supply chain, it’s almost impossible to actually follow a fish’s path from the boat to the dinner plate.
Fortunately, there are steps being taken to tackle this issue. Last year, the White House established the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud. Oceana is now calling on the Obama administration to follow through on its commitment to tackle these important issues by requiring traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S.
Consumers have the right to make informed decisions about the food they eat, and honest U.S. fishermen and seafood businesses shouldn’t be undercut by illegal or mislabeled products flooding the U.S. market. Simple information, like where and how a fish was caught and its name, needs to follow seafood throughout the entire supply chain. Otherwise consumers will never know if their fish is actually safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.