AP report claims Sea To Table lied to customers about seafood origins
An investigative report by the Associated Press claims it has found evidence that the company Sea To Table has been misleading customers about origins of its seafood.
Sea To Table, founded more than two decades ago, offers fresh wild-caught seafood sourced from small-scale American fishermen. The company guarantees that its products are wild-caught and directly traceable to docks, and often specific boats, in the U.S. The purchase of the seafood often comes with informational packages detailing the origins and the people behind the product.
According to the AP report, published on 13 June, those claims may be suspect as investigations found that the company was sourcing "fresh" seafood from boats that hadn’t been to sea for two years, species that weren’t allowed to be fished in locations Sea To Table was claiming they were from, and tuna from southeast Asian companies with checkered histories of labor abuse.
“Preliminary DNA tests suggested some of its yellowfin tuna likely came from the other side of the world, and reporters traced the company’s supply chain to migrant fishermen in foreign waters who described labor abuses, poaching and the slaughter of sharks, whales and dolphins,” the AP report said.
The extensive report details the efforts of the AP as they staked out fish markets; followed trucks; interviewed fishermen on three continents; took time-lapse photos of Montauk Harbor, New York, that supposedly had boats landing tuna; and purposefully ordered their own shipments to test the veracity of Sea To Table’s claims of sourcing.
“AP worked with a chef to order fish supposedly coming from the seaside town (Montauk Harbor). The boat listed on the receipt hadn’t been there in at least two years,” the report found.
The AP also ordered tuna through a caterer, and discovered that the boat it claimed it was landed on didn’t catch anything for Sea To Table.
“I’m kind of in shock right now,” Brandon LaVielle of Lavish Roots Catering, a client of Sea To Table, told the Associated Press. “We felt like we were supporting smaller fishing villages.”
The report also investigated the Bob Gosman Company, one of Sea To Table’s suppliers. According to one of the owners, Bryan Gosman, in the months when no tuna can be landed at their dock, they source their supply from the New Fulton Fish Market, which imports tuna from around the world. Gosman, told the AP that they try to keep U.S.-caught tuna separate from imported tuna specifically for Sea To Table.
“Can things get mixed up? It could get mixed up,” he said to AP. “Is it an intentional thing? No, not at all.”
Previously, the AP said, the company was sourcing fish from as far away as North Carolina, 700 miles away.
AP also found that Sea To Table was offering "fresh" seafood that couldn’t have possibly been caught fresh. The company promoted fresh blue crab from Maryland in January, despite the fact that the season for blue crab closed in November.
Eric Hodge told the AP that he considered partnering with Sea To Table but had second thoughts when he saw they were offering canary rockfish – which was illegal to catch at the time – and halibut, which often relies on imports.
“Honestly, they know. I just don’t think they care,” Hodge told AP. “They are making money on every shipment, and they are not going to ask questions. And in seafood, that’s a bad way to go about it because there is so much fraud.”
The company responded to the accusations swiftly with a release of their own on 13 June. Sea To Table Founder Sean Dimin said that the company is “addressing these claims quickly.”
“Sea to Table is a family business dedicated to delivering the highest standard of seafood to our customers, and these allegations are frankly heartbreaking," Dimin said. “The idea that we could be associated – even very loosely – with an organization that engages in poor labor practices is outright horrifying to us.”
Dimin also said that Sea To Table has terminated its relationship with the Gosman Company.
“If the reporter’s allegations are accurate, the third party supplier singled out, Gosman’s, would be in clear breach of the spirit and contractual agreement that we have with them. As we further investigate, we have discontinued our working relationship with Gosman’s,” he said.
Outside seafood advocacy groups also reacted to the report, condemning Sea To Table for enabling the practices AP discovered.
“The AP’s report appears to be thorough and well-researched. It raises some serious concerns,” National Fisheries Institute spokesperson Gavin Gibbons told SeafoodSource. “It’s important to note that willful mislabeling is not just an error, it is fraud, plain and simple.”
Gibbons also pointed out that Sea To Table is neither an NFI member, nor a member of the Better Seafood Board.
Oceana, a company dedicated to ocean conservation, told SeafoodSource the report is another piece of evidence that further efforts traceability in the seafood industry are needed.
“Seafood fraud is a serious global problem that undermines honest businesses and fishermen that play by the rules. It threatens consumer health and safety, cheats consumers when they pay higher prices for a mislabeled lower-value fish, and hides harmful practices like illegal fishing, poorly-regulated aquaculture and human rights abuses,” said Beth Lowell, senior director at Oceana. “As global fishing becomes more expansive and further industrialized, seafood fraud and its related impacts could get even worse.”
She added that further efforts for full-chain traceability is the next logical step in stamping out seafood fraud.
“While the United States has increased traceability requirements for some imported seafood types, more can and should be done, she said.” “The federal government needs to require full-chain traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. and extend traceability throughout the entire supply chain, from boat or farm to plate.”