ClientEarth: Up to 70 percent of seafood sold in Spanish fish markets not labeled appropriately

Published on
December 14, 2018

Non-compliance with federal labeling laws is rampant at Spanish fish markets, a new study by environmental nonprofit law organization ClientEarth has found.

Mandatory seafood labeling regulations are being breached throughout the supply chain, and Spanish authorities are not exerting sufficient regulatory pressure to combat the problem, ClientEarth said.

“This breach of the law is unacceptable. The public authorities must be aware of the high degree of non-compliance with minimum legal requirements and ensure control in the labelling of seafood products,” the organization said in a press release. “Improper labeling is one of the biggest factors for seafood products, caught illegally or sourced from overexploited fisheries, being sold to unaware consumers. The issue is a direct threat to the sustainable development of the nation’s fishing sector and the conservation of its waters and marine resources.”

The 51-page report, “Buying seafood: everything they’re not telling us,” details a research project that analyzed 266 products at 36 seafood stalls in Spanish fish markets. The researchers found that:

  • Up to 70 percent of mandatory labelling information was not provided
  • The production method was missing on three-quarters of all products
  • The scientific name of the species was missing on around eight in 10 products
  • The area where the species was caught or processed was missing on up to three-quarters of all products
  • Around 95 percent of all products lacked minimum duration or expiration details
  • The type of fishing gear used was missing on up to 85 percent of products
  • Just two percent of seafood sold was labeled with additional voluntary information, and in the majority of cases there was none
  • Readability or visibility of label information was inadequate for more than one in five products

ClientEarth sustainable seafood lawyer Nieves Noval called for action from both the Spanish government and the seafood industry to bring the industry into compliance.

“What our report shows is that there is a serious lack of information about seafood products being sold at Spanish fish markets – this illegality is widespread and seemingly going unchecked,” Noval said. “The seafood industry needs to stamp out these practices, by making all mandatory information available to consumers … [ and] Spanish authorities must now carry out exhaustive efforts to monitor, investigate and, where appropriate, impose sanctions to ensure compliance.

In its report, ClientEarth offered numerous suggestions for improving compliance. Primarily, the group called for more information-sharing and education about the importance of proper labeling, particularly as it affects responsible sourcing and environmental conservation. Other recommendations included the streamlining of various European Union, Spanish, regional, and local rules and regulations to make compliance simpler; better coordination amongst Spain’s regulatory bodies regarding rule-making and enforcement, and a ramp-up in inspections, enforcement, and sanctioning regarding labeling use and misuse.

“In markets across the country, this failure to provide compulsory information might lead to seafood that has been caught illegally or from overexploited fisheries ending up on the plates of unwitting customers,” Noval said. “Current consumer regulations are a key element to ensure seafood sustainability. All mandatory legal requirements for seafood products are essential for consumers to be able to make responsible purchases.”

Photo courtesy of ClientEarth

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