A Guardian Seascape analysis of 44 recent studies of more than 9,000 seafood samples from restaurants, fishmongers and supermarkets in more than 30 countries found that 36% were mislabeled, exposing seafood fraud on a large global scale.
Many of the studies used relatively new DNA analysis techniques. In a comparison of sales of fish labeled “snapper” by fishmongers, supermarkets and restaurants in Canada, the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, researchers found incorrect labels on about 40% of fish tasted. The UK and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling in that study, at 55%, followed by the US at 38%.
Sometimes the fish were labeled as different species from the same family. In Germany, for example, 48% of the analyzed samples pretending to be scallops they were in fact the least coveted Japanese scallops. Of 130 shark fillets purchased from Italian fish markets and fishmongers, the researchers found a 45% mislabeling rate, with cheaper and unpopular shark species that replace those most appreciated by Italian consumers.
Other substitutes were from vulnerable or endangered species. In one Study 2018Almost 70% of samples from across the UK sold as snapper were a different fish, of a staggering 38 different species, including many reef-dwelling species likely to be threatened by habitat degradation and overfishing.
Other samples proved not to be entirely aquatic species., with prawn balls sold in Singapore contain pig and no sign of prawns.
Fishing fraud has been a known problem around the world for a long time. Because seafood is among the most internationally traded food products, often through complex and opaque supply chains, it is very vulnerable to mislabeling. Much of the world’s catch is transported from fishing boats to huge transshipment vessels for processing, where mislabeling is relatively easy and cost-effective to perform.
There are “so many opportunities along the seafood supply chain” to falsely label low-value fish as a high-value species, or farmed fish as wild, says Beth Lowell, assistant vice president of US campaigns. In Oceana, an international organization focused on the oceans. Study after study has found that mislabeling is common everywhere, Lowell says.
However, the studies in question sometimes target species that are known to be problematic, meaning that it is inaccurate to conclude that 36% of all the world’s seafood is necessarily mislabeled. The studies also use different methodologies and samples. Fish is also not always deliberately mislabelled, although the vast majority of substitutions involved lower-priced fish replacing higher-priced fish, indicating fraud rather than carelessness.
The problem seems to be widespread in restaurants. One study, representing the first large-scale attempt to examine incorrect labeling in European restaurants, involved more than 100 scientists secretly collecting requested seafood samples from 180 restaurants in 23 countries. They sent 283 samples, along with the description of the menu, the date, the price, the name and the address of the restaurant, to a laboratory. The DNA from each sample was analyzed to identify the species and then compared to the names on the menu. One in three restaurants had sold mislabeled seafood.
The highest rates of restaurant mislabeling, ranging from 40% to 50%, were recorded in Spain, Iceland, Finland and Germany. Fish such as dark grouper (“grouper”) and butterfish were among the most frequently mislabeled species, while for walleye, sole, bluefin tuna, and yellowfin tuna, there was a 50% chance that customers did not get what they asked for.
Sometimes the fish is substituted by similar species, for example, one type of tuna for another. Often, however, the replacement is an entirely different species.
A very common substitute is the little-known and inexpensive shark catfish or pangasius. This group of fish is widely cultivated in Vietnam and Cambodia, and has a similar taste and texture to other white fish, such as cod, sole, and haddock.
Other substitutions are more disturbing. For example, mixed seafood products, such as shrimp balls purchased from Singapore markets, recorded a 38.5% mislabeling rate. The prawn balls repeatedly contained pig DNA, the researchers found.
And in China, 153 grilled fish fillet products from 30 commercial brands purchased from local markets were tested to reveal “a alarming rate of misrepresentation of at least 58% ”, including some substitutions from the deadly pufferfish family.
Substituted fish can present health risks. A common substitute for some varieties of tuna is the school, an oil fish that is difficult to digest. Others have individual parasites that can threaten health. Others are less nutritious: When tilapia is a substitute for red snapper, people eat a fish with lower levels of nutrients, including lower omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Oceana, which has conducted nearly 20 investigations of its own on mislabeling, also did a global review in 2016 from 200 studies from 55 countries, which found that, on average, one in five fish sampled in fishmongers, supermarkets and restaurants was mislabeled.
The situation does not seem to improve. In 2019, Oceana found 47% of samples that he tested from food retailers and restaurants in six Canadian cities were mislabeled.
There is considerable economic incentive to sell low-value fish instead of more popular and expensive species, and even more money to “launder” illegally caught fish, says Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist at the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries at Columbia University. British.
Sum calculated in a Study 2020 that each year between 8 and 14 million tonnes of fish are caught illegally. “That’s like 15 to 20 million cows being stolen every year,” in terms of weight, he said.
“Fish laundering” is often linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) catches by large “distant” fleets, in which foreign-flagged vessels operate off the coasts of Africa, Asia and South America . The catches are often processed on board large transshipment vessels, where mislabeling and mixing of legal and illegal fish takes place in relative secrecy. The risk of being caught is low because monitoring and transparency are weak throughout the seafood supply chain. “People can make a lot of money doing this,” Sumaila said.
Others lose out. Fish laundering generates an economic loss of $ 26-50 billion a year, the Sumaila study concluded, as illegally or fraudulently labeled fish undermines the legal industry, making it difficult for honest players to compete. “It is very corrosive,” he said. “If it doesn’t stop, the illegal fishing just grows.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism