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Oceana has released a report claiming widespread seafood fraud across the United States.

According to the environmental group, one out of every three fish tested out of 1,215 samples from 674 retailers on 21 states were mislabeled. Oceana found fraud everywhere it tested, including mislabeling rates of 52 percent in Southern California, 49 percent in Austin and Houston, 48 percent in Boston, 39 percent in New York City, 38 percent in Northern California and South Florida, 36 percent in Denver, 35 percent in Kansas City, 32 percent in Chicago, 26 percent in Washington D.C., 21 percent in Portland and 18 percent in Seattle.

Oceana’s study targeted fish with regional significance as well as those found to be frequently mislabeled in previous studies such as red snapper, cod, tuna and wild salmon. Of the most commonly collected types of fish, snapper and tuna had the highest mislabeling rates across the country at 87 and 59 percent, respectively. While 44 percent of all the retail outlets visited sold mislabeled fish, sushi venues had the worst level of mislabeling at 74 percent, followed by other restaurants at 38 percent and then grocery stores at 18 percent. 

“Purchasing seafood has become the ultimate guessing game for U.S. consumers,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana campaign director. “Whether you live in Florida or Kansas, no one is safe from seafood fraud. We need to track our seafood from boat to plate so that consumers can be more confident that the fish they purchase is safe, legal and honestly labeled.”

“Some of the fish substitutions we found are just disturbing,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and Oceana senior scientist. “Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on health or conservations concerns.” 

But at least one industry organization said there is a “fundamental problem” with what Oceana claims is the answer to mislabeled seafood. The National Fisheries Institute released a statement noting that Oceana’s aim was to use the study to support its lobbying efforts for new laws requiring full traceability for seafood.

“The Food and Drug Administration needs to fulfill its mandate to fight food fraud. That means enforcing laws that are already on the books,” said John Connelly, NFI president. “Calling for new laws to fight fish fraud suggests groups don’t fully understand the issue at hand. If drivers are accused of running a stop sign you don’t simply put up another stop sign, you station a cop on the corner and start cracking down.”

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