Why There Should Be One Name For One Fish

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A fish by any name is still a fish. But sometimes names do matter, as a recent report by the ocean advocacy group Oceana reveals. The use of one name for one fish can help protect our oceans and the fish that swim in them.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that only the “acceptable market name” be used on labels, menus and packaging. That is a good thing. However, the FDA often allows many different species of fish to be sold under the same market name, and that is not good. For example, 56 species are permitted to be called “snapper,” and 64 species are called “grouper.”

Confused? Join the club. The biggest problem with allowing so many different types of fish and seafood species to use the same market name is that it makes it harder to stop seafood fraud and illegal fishing. Oceana believes that using one name for one fish will help the seafood industry which is plagued with illegal and mislabeled products. One name for one fish will also benefit consumers, and protect endangered and vulnerable species.

Consider that seafood is the most traded and most valuable food commodity on the planet. Billions of people rely on the oceans for employment, recreation and food. The trouble is that, without the proper care of our oceans, we could lose an important part of the world’s economy.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is any fishing that operates outside of domestic and international laws and rules. The federal government is set to decide how to protect the seafood industry through the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing and Seafood. The Oceana report recommends the federal government require the use of species-specific names, or one name for one fish, throughout the entire seafood supply chain. That would include everything from the fishing boat that catches the fish to the store that sells it.

The report suggests that since Latin scientific names are universally recognized, they could be used to identify species. That way language would not be a barrier since the Latin scientific names are recognized regardless of language. They are already used on many regulatory documents across the globe. The European Union already requires that all unprocessed fish products sold both in stores and online be labeled with the scientific name. If the U.S. did the same, it would “likely become a global movement, since together they make up 50 percent of global seafood imports by value,” the report states.

The use of one name for one fish would also mean that when we go to the store to buy fish, we would know exactly what we are getting. Gone would be the days when we buy a fish labeled “snapper” and after we cook it, realize it just doesn’t taste like snapper.

Image credit: Flickr/jh_tan84

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.