New Traceability Rule Doesn’t Go Far Enough to Stop Seafood Fraud in US
Oceana Report Reveals Shortfalls in Proposed Rule, Calls for Clear Plan to Trace All US Seafood from Boat to Plate
Press Release Date: June 7, 2016
Today, Oceana released a new report revealing shortfalls in the Obama administration’s proposed traceability rule to address seafood fraud in the United States. The report analyzes scientific studies, government documents and news reports since 2001 that identify examples of seafood fraud (species substitution and mislabeling) and highlights how the proposed rule falls short in fighting seafood fraud within the U.S. Specifically, the proposed rule does not increase transparency for the majority of the seafood sold in the U.S., and Oceana believes it should be expanded to include all seafood and extended through the full supply chain.
The Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, which was originally established in 2014, issued an action plan in 2015 that included recommendations to establish a seafood traceability program. While the proposed rule, also known as the draft “Seafood Import Monitoring Program,” is a valuable first step, Oceana says that by only requiring traceability for 13 “at-risk” seafood types from the boat to the U.S. border, many opportunities for continued seafood fraud remain.
“The proposed rule presents a historic opportunity to begin the process of tracing seafood in the U.S., but only if there’s a clear plan toward expanding to all species and extending traceability throughout the entire supply chain, from boat to plate,” said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. “Consumers have a right to basic information about their seafood, including the species name, and how and where it was caught or farmed. Without strengthening the rule, fraudsters will continue to cheat consumers, undermine responsible and hardworking U.S. fishermen and businesses, and damage efforts to ensure the long-term productivity of our oceans for future generations.”
Among the reports key findings include:
- Seventy-four percent (37) of the 50 types of seafood identified as mislabeled in the U.S. will not be covered by the proposed rule (example: wild Alaska salmon)
- Of the 27 legal cases where seafood was found or suspected to be mislabeled since 2001, 77 percent (21) involved seafood fraud that occurred within the U.S. (beyond the reach of the proposed rule)
- The proposed rule does nothing to trace the fish that are substituted in mislabeling – the imposter fish that are called something else to fetch a higher price or hide their less-desirable origins (example: selling escolar as “white tuna” or Asian catfish as “grouper”)
- Sixty-two percent of the 180 seafood species identified as imposters in Oceana’s analysis carry health risks, and 21 percent face the threat of extinction, as determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Some of the highlights from reviewed government documents and media sources include:
- Wholesalers allegedly mislabeling imported swimming crab as if it were the more valuable, wild-caught U.S. blue crab
- A distributor found guilty of labeling Mexican-caught shrimp as if it were domestic U.S. shrimp
- A seafood company accused of flouting government quotas by allegedly labeling severely overfished cod as relatively abundant haddock to circumvent catch limits
- A California sushi restaurant pleads guilty to importing endangered sei whale by mislabeling it as “fatty tuna,” in order to be able to illegally serve customers whale sushi
- A seafood processor pleads guilty to selling lower-priced coho salmon as more expensive Chinook salmon
- A dozen businesses and individuals convicted for a conspiracy that led to mislabeling imported Asian catfish as more expensive domestic catches to defraud consumers and avoid tariffs
“Committing to trace all seafood sold in the U.S. from boat – or farm – to plate will not only protect consumers from hidden health risks from mislabeled products, but will also help restore trust for all seafood buyers that what they are selling is safe, honestly labeled and from legal sources that protect human rights,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana.
Since 2011, Oceana has worked to stop seafood fraud in the United States.
Oceana’s investigations of fish, shrimp, crab cakes, and most recently salmon, in retail markets and restaurants found that, on average, one-third of the seafood examined in these studies was mislabeled—the product listed on the label or menu was different than what the buyer thought they purchased, often a less desirable or lower-priced species. Oceana has observed threatened species being sold as more sustainable, expensive varieties replaced with cheaper alternatives and fish that can cause illness substituted in place of those that are safer to eat.
In 2014, Oceana conducted the most current and comprehensive review of seafood fraud literature to date, compiling 103 studies in 29 countries and on all continents except Antarctica. Every study found some level of seafood fraud, demonstrating that it is not just an issue that narrowly affects a handful of species or regions. In the U.S. alone, 50 different types of seafood have been found mislabeled with over 180 species substituted in their place. The U.S. currently imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, yet a recent study found that between 20-32 percent of wild-caught seafood crossing our borders comes from ‘pirate’ fishing.
Earlier this year, Oceana released a report titled Fish Stories, which shows the success and value in seafood traceability. Specifically, the report highlights how seafood traceability benefits more than 15 companies interviewed along the supply chain – from fishermen and distributors to grocery stores and restaurants. To read the report and watch the video, please visit www.oceana.org/fishstories.
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop seafood fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.