Red snapper mislabelling rife in US restaurants: Oceana

Global ocean conservation society Oceana published its US National Seafood Fraud Report earlier this year and this week released some choice stats from the report in the graphic below.

The list of mislabeled fish found in restaurants and supermarkets alone is disturbing but the real concern is: where along the chain from trawler to dockyard to fish wholesaler/supplier to store is the mislabeling occurring?

I guess that’s a major problem facing any watchdog of the fishing industry, as is the lack of consumer knowledge when it comes to the fish being bought. Many people could buy a silk snapper labeled as red snapper and be none the wiser and I doubt whether more than 5 per cent of the population could tell one rockfish from another.

But if a green capsicum (pepper) was labeled as a red one in a supermarket, most would be educated enough to know the difference (not including the colour-blind of course).

Courtesy: Oceana

Courtesy: Oceana

 

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Posted on March 20, 2013, in activism, conservation, fishing, science, sea life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Steve, thanks for another great post.
    Almost a month ago, we wrote directly to two different offices within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the body responsible for accurate labeling of fish in the marketplace. We asked them why the FDA doesn’t go to a one fish, one name policy as does, for example, Australia. No response.
    In those letters, we also expressed our view that the FDA is the problem. Their non-response confirms that perception. So the question is this: How do we as consumers and environmentalists impress upon the United States Government that we Must have a sensible, enforceable means of identifying and labeling fish. Anything less than that will (and does) result in widespread fraud on a mass scale.
    So, it starts with the government permitting any fish to be called by any name. After that, everyone from commercial anglers to wholesalers to retailers to restauranteurs and chefs participate in this fraud by labeling fish with the most economically lucrative name they can get away with. Thus, white-meated bottom fish are sold as “white tuna” in sushi restaurants, cheap, Chinese-farmed talapia is passed off as “snapper,” rockfish have been mislabeled as ” sea bass” and “snapper” for years, but now that consumers are discovering how tasty they are, the names for genus Sebastes are arbitrarily changing again; this is a Big Deal given how slowly Sebastes reproduce and how vulnerable they are to overfishing. Hybrid striped bass x white bass – a fish farmed in fresh water -, is routinely passed off as tastier striped bass – a fish currently recovering its population due to tight federal and state harvest regulations. And so on and so forth.
    We need an organization with clout and resources to get involved in taking the FDA by the scruff of the neck and forcing them to correct this. It is impossible for consumers to make informed, responsible decisions in this sea of fraudulent labeling. Jack

    • Excellent argument for changing naming conventions, thanks Jack. The FDA seems spread into too many areas to really handle this issue properly but they would be unwilling to hand the responsibility over to Oceana or any NGO, despite the better job they would do.
      Tilapia being passed off as snapper seems a ridiculous idea, at least when it comes to the delicatessen section of a major supermarket or even in a decent-size fish market.
      Most people I know could at least pick a snapper fro a lineup of 20 common market fish (this is Pagrus auratus I refer to, not the Aussie red snapper Centroberyx gerrardi). But then we are brought up catching or buying and eating fish as a common habit, so mislabeling might just be less effective here

      • The problem is with fillets and fish sold as sushi (in the case of talapia as snapper). Once a fish is no longer in the round – and particularly if skin is removed – even experts can be fooled. Plus, even if you are fairly certain that, say, a fillet isn’t what it’s purported to be – customers are at a real disadvantage – particularly if they’re in a restaurant and the fraudulent fish is on their plate. All this does fall on the shoulders of the FDA. The only remedy I can see is that consumers will have to figure out a way to get them to do their job – just as they do for beef, etc. If that means congress has to approve more funding, so be it, but my guess is that by merely enacting a better policy – i.e., one fish, one name – Most of the industry would fall in line. Always interested in your thoughts… Jack

      • Yes for sure, it’s one thing to identify a fish lying on ice in a market or grocery store but definitely harder when it’s plated up in a fancy restaurant. Some chefs would probably be experts in flavouring tilapia to taste like snapper or any cheaper substitute to taste like tuna.

        And it is down to customers demanding it – Callum Roberts did a great job of that in “End of the Line” by filming a segment outside Nobu in London and then interviewing a Nobu manager about why they serve an endangered fish – I think it was swordfish.
        Exposing the issue publicly and shaming the big retailers (those who pushed Walmart to take on their new sustainable seafood ethos) is the best way of making change, not by relying on governments to pave the way

      • We’ve been Very skeptical of Walmart’s PR campaign to convince consumers that its adopting a sustainable seafood ethos. Time will tell. The problem with this kind of change is that it’s too widespread to believe consumers can change the overall picture. Government oversight has worked fairly well to very well in the meat industry; it’ll work with fish. Until we get the kind of truth-in-labeling laws/protocols that are in place in meat (and shoe, and car, and cereal, etc.) industries, there is no way for consumers to have the information necessary to leverage change. The ONLY reason farmed salmon is labeled “farmed” is because the government makes the industry comply. So…

      • Good to hear that govt oversight works over there. In Australia we’ve had some high-profile examples where the government has been forced to act because of grassroots exposure of major issues, such as the inhumane butchering of cows in Indonesia, destined for Aust markets. That was filmed by an animal rights group, screened by an Aus news network and embarrassing for the industry and government.
        True, the government is the endpoint for forcing compliance but the people can still have an impact by pushing the govt/industry to change their habits and policies

      • Yep, we probably agree on all this… it’s just a matter of where the movement begins and where it ends. You’re absolutely correct to observe that these things invariably begin with citizens insisting on action. People seem to be just now becoming savvy about seafood/fish issues. So, all of us have to be citizen scientists and do our part to guide policy. Thanks again for your efforts!

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