Seafood is a popular food in the United States, yet consumers are routinely given little information about the seafood they eat. This information can also be misleading, which impacts consumers, public health, fishermen, honest seafood businesses and the oceans. Requiring traceability for all seafood will help to prevent seafood fraud and keep illegally caught fish from entering the legal market. All seafood should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.
Seafood is a global commodity traded around the world, often following a long, complex and non-transparent supply chain. Seafood fraud can come in many forms, from short-weighting packaging to falsifying the real origin of a fish. Oceana has focused specifically on species substitution, where one fish is sold as another, often a lower-cost fish sold as a more expensive one. Species substitution cheats consumers, undermines honest fishermen, and can put public health and the oceans at risk. In addition, seafood fraud allows illegally caught fish to gain a new identity and enter the legal seafood trade.
Oceana has led the way by exposing seafood fraud, conducting our own investigations, and successfully campaigning for policy changes to stop seafood fraud and illegal fishing. Our efforts helped establish the first-ever requirements in the U.S. for catch documentation and traceability for some imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud.
While the new requirements were a big first step, more needs to be done to fully address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and seafood fraud. All seafood should be tracked from boat to plate to ensure that it is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled.
A review of more than 200 studies worldwide found 1 in 5 samples were mislabeled.
Seafood fraud creates a market for illegally caught fish.
Seafood fraud can directly threaten human health.
Seafood Fraud Persists in the U.S.
Global Review of Seafood Fraud
One Name, One Fish Report
What Oceana Does
In 2011, Oceana launched our campaign to stop seafood fraud in the U.S. To date, Oceana has conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world, testing popular and local favorites like shrimp, salmon and crab cakes in U.S. retail markets. In all, Oceana collected 1,978 samples from 30 states and the District of Columbia and found that, on average, one-third of the seafood tested was mislabeled.
In addition to testing seafood, Oceana compiled more than 200 studies on seafood mislabeling and species substitutions across the globe, the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date. Globally, one in five fish tested was mislabeled.
From Oceana’s studies and those from around the world, it’s clear that seafood fraud is pervasive, found on nearly every continent. In order to stop seafood fraud, we must collect key information about the fish and track the seafood from boat to plate. Governments can help by requiring robust catch documentation and increasing inspections and testing of imported and domestically caught seafood. Stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combating fraud and illegal fishing are also needed to reverse these disturbing trends.
Oceana’s successful campaign helped lead to the establishment of the Task Force for Combating Illegal Fishing and Seafood Fraud in 2014. The federal task force was charged with developing domestic and international recommendations to stop seafood fraud and end illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. As recommended by the task force, the U.S. government established a first-ever seafood traceability program. The Seafood Import Monitoring Program went into effect January 2018 and requires that some imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud be subject to the same catch reporting requirements as domestically caught fish. It also requires traceability from the point of catch or farm to the U.S. border.
Steps Needed to End Seafood Fraud
While the new traceability requirements are a great step in the right direction, more needs to be done to stop seafood fraud in the United States. Current traceability and catch documentation requirements only apply to 13 types of imported seafood and only trace them from the boat (or farm) to the U.S. border. These requirements must be expanded to all species and extended from boat to plate, to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced 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- Key data elements that provide the who, what, when, where and how of fishing like species name, where the fish was caught or farmed, vessel name, etc. help demonstrate that the fish was legally caught, or if farmed, provide details about its source.
Full-chain traceability- The seafood is tracked from the point of catch through the full supply chain to the end consumer. Traceability helps reduce seafood fraud and keeps products of IUU fishing out of the market.
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 will allow consumers to make more informed seafood choices.
Robust Verification- Local, state and federal officials should use the appropriate tools and resources to ensure that seafood entering our market is legally caught and honestly labeled. More transparency of commercial fishing facilitates robust verification. Governments should require vessel tracking for fishing vessels, including both Vessel Monitoring System and Automatic Identification System transmissions.