Americans are Victims of Seafood Fraud, Oceana Study Finds

4320791013_496e641c08A study conducted by Oceana, an international advocacy group, found that 33 percent of the seafood samples analyzed were mislabeled according to guidelines by the FDA. From 2010 to 2012, the group conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations to date, collecting over 1,200 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Over 80 percent of the seafood collected came from varieties of salmon, snapper, cod, tuna, sole, halibut and grouper. At least one instance of mislabeling was found in 27 out of the 46 types of fish collected.

Oceana staff and supporters bought the seafood analyzed from restaurants, sushi venues, grocery stores and seafood markets. The samples came from over a dozen metropolitan areas or regions, including the largest U.S. cities (Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Chicago). Most samples were analyzed at the University of Guelph’s Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding in Ontario, Canada, which pioneered a DNA barcoding technique. Samples were also taken to other commercial labs to verify results. Researchers determined the genetic identity for 1,215 of the 1,247 seafood samples (97 percent) collected.

Seafood fraud is a problem considering that the U.S. is the second largest seafood consumer globally, second only to China. Americans probably consume so much seafood because both the American Heart Association and new dietary guidelines from the federal government recommend eating eight ounces or two seafood meals a week. Over 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported. Unfortunately, less than one percent of the more than 1,700 seafood species sold in the U.S. are inspected by the government specifically for fraud.

Specific results of the seafood samples collected

Oceana shoppers collected 23 types of fish from sushi venues, and researchers found that 95 percent sold were mislabeled. The highest levels of mislabeling were found in snapper (92 percent) and tuna (71 percent). All of the yellowtail/hamachi samples were mislabeled. Among the samples collected bought from grocery stores and seafood markets, 27 percent of the 28 types collected from 408 places were mislabeled. When it came to restaurants, a little more than half (52 percent) of the 32 types of fish collected from 148 restaurants were mislabeled.

The most mislabeled fish type was snapper, and it was mislabeled 161 out of 186 times or 87 percent. Snapper was the second most frequently collected fish type. The largest variety and number of substitutions among all the fish types tested was snapper. A total of 33 different species were substituted for the snapper sold. Among the snapper samples, red snapper was the most mislabeled. Only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper bought nationwide by Oceana staff and supporters were actually red snapper, the other 113 samples were another fish.

Recommendations to reduce seafood fraud

The report lists several recommendations to reduce the incidence of seafood fraud, which include:

  • Making seafood traceable—Tracking fish from boat to plate would significantly reduce fraud. It needs to be a state/federal priority to stop seafood fraud by requiring full traceability
  • Labeling requirements—Including information such as when, where and how a fish was caught, its type, and whether it was farmed or previously frozen, plus any additives used during processing needs to be required

It will be interesting to see how state and federal lawmakers respond to the findings of this study. Stay tuned to find out if our congressional members can find a way to reduce seafood fraud.

Image credit: Flickr user, whologwhy

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

3 responses

  1. Its kind of crazy that consumers don’t notice or complain about this sort of thing. I guess we’ve never had real snapper and therefore can’t tell when we get the fake stuff?

  2. Just went to a restaurant that served “mahi-mahi” which I would guess was either wahoo or whitefish – not even close! But the rest of the meal was so bad too that I was too busy running out of the restaurant screaming and tearing my hair to worry about the fish!

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