Fish Façade

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Source: Oceana
Source: Oceana

The U.S. population eats more seafood than any other nation besides China.  If you’re like me, and always do exactly what the American Heart Association says, you’d be eating two seafood meals every week.

As I mentioned in a previous post (which, I’m sure you memorized), 86 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, but, what I didn’t mention is that less than 1 percent of it is inspected for fraud.  Yes, fish fraud; it’s rampant and it threatens your health, the health of our oceans and your pocketbook.

Oceana conducted a study from 2010 to 2012 and found that one-third of U.S. seafood they sampled was mislabeled.  After all, a fish by any other name would still smell as fishy.

It is unclear where along the fishing line – from boat to plate —the fraud is taking place (if not several places).  But, unless you caught it yourself, or purchased from a trusted fishmonger in your town, it is quite likely you have been consuming phony fish.

A few snippets from Oceana’s study of 1200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states:

  • Only 7 of the 120 red snapper they sampled were actually red snapper.
  • 84% of white tuna was actually escolar, which can cause severe digestive issues for some people.
  • Between 1/5 to 1/3 of halibut, grouper, cod and “Chilean sea bass” were mislabeled (that last one’s in quotes because this fish is neither Chilean, nor is it sea bass – but actually Patagonion or Antarctic Toothfish – yet another topic for a future blogpost!) . I will say that including Chilean sea bass in the statistic muddies it up a bit for me, since this is not a case of a fish not being the fish it is – but a fish whose name we invented because toothfish didn’t sound tasty (there are others, again, for another blog).

Why does it matter?

  • Your health: high levels of mercury /  allergies / illnesses caused by certain low-quality fish;
  • Ocean and Sea health: by claiming a fish is actually another fish, fishermen can get away with catching endangered or threatened fish, threatening the stock of that fish and all others above and below it on the food chain; and, this type of illegal fishing practice usually goes hand-in-hand with fishing practices that endanger or kill other sea creatures and wreak havoc on the the sea floor;
  • U.S. fishermen and women: the U.S. inspects its own fisheries for fraud and illegal fishing, so the playing sea is not level.
  • Your finances: You’re paying up to 4 times as much for grouper as you would for catfish, but – you may be eating catfish.

The White House created a task force to crack down on illegal fishing activities, which requires initiation of a traceability program to track seafood from harvest point to U.S. sale point.  The task force has about a month left on its deadline to get this program established.   I have a hunch this task force may be more task and less force – but I’ll try to remain positive.

In the meantime, what can you do to ensure the fish you purchase is not a Sheepshead in Wolf fish clothing?

  • Buy American.
  • If available, buy local.
  • Buy from members of the Better Seafood Bureau (BSB).
  • Put the Seafood Watch app on your smart phone and check it for smart fish shopping.
    Note: (The Seafood Watch and the BSB are great resources and hugely beneficial for increasing consumer savvy, but they cannot be relied upon for 100% accuracy until traceability is enforced across the globe.)
  • The best option, and one my husband and child are doing as I type: Go fishing!!!




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