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Congressional Bill Introduced to Combat Seafood Fraud

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment

Seafood fraud is all too real, as an Oceana report found. The report by the international advocacy group found that 33 percent of the seafood samples analyzed were mislabeled according to guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At least one instance of mislabeling was found in 27 of the 46 types of fish analyzed. Enter the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, introduced on March 6, by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) to address the problem of seafood fraud. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) is expected to introduce a similar Senate bill.

The SAFE Seafood Act would require that the data collected by U.S. fishermen on the species, production method, geographic catch area and weight or number of fish stay with the seafood through processing, distribution, and sale. It would require equivalent data to accompany imported seafood, which is important since over 91 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. The bill would require that a publicly available list of exporters by country that violate federal seafood fraud laws be developed. The bill would give the Secretary of Commerce the right to refuse shipments of fraudulent seafood from foreign exporters. It would also require the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Health and Human services (HHS) to coordinate on sanctioning exporters.

The bill would also do the following:

  • Ensure that inspections are conducted to look for seafood fraud, and to determine seafood safety

  • Establish procedures for increasing the number of local, state, and federal officials that are authorized to conduct seafood fraud and safety inspections

  • Require the HHS, in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce, to update and improve its list of standardized names for seafood and ensure that the list is accurate and publicly available

  • Give state attorneys general the authority to bring a civil action on behalf of a state’s residents to enjoin fraud and/or receive damages

  • Require a biennial joint report from Commerce and HHS on progress made in ensuring seafood safety and preventing seafood fraud
Fish fraud is a national problem that needs a national solution. This bill finally tells the seafood swindlers and fish fraudsters that we will protect America's fishermen and consumers from Massachusetts to Alaska," said Rep. Markey.

Seafood fraud first appeared on the radar in 2011 after separate investigations by Boston Globe and Oceana found that seafood fraud was rampant in the Boston area. The Boston Globe, using DNA testing, found that 48 percent of the seafood it sampled from restaurants and stores was not the species that was advertised. Oceana found fraud in 18 percent of its DNA tests, which were only from supermarkets. After the Globe investigation, Rep. Markey sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about their oversight of seafood fraud.

Image credit: Flickr user, goodiesfirst

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.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman