Oceana answers shrimp report critics


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
November 6, 2014

A director with environmental activist group Oceana is defending the group’s latest report on seafood mislabeling in the United States against criticisms of its limited scope and recommendations for additional regulations.

Gib Brogan, Northeast director for Oceana, appeared in the latest edition of SeafoodSource’s video blog, SeafoodSourceTV, to discuss a report released last week detailing the group’s latest survey, this time regarding shrimp sold in U.S. retail stores and restaurants. The report is similar to another study the group did last year, which found that 30 percent of finfish for sale in the United States is incorrectly labeled.

In the latest report, the group tested 143 samples of shrimp nationwide, and found 30 percent of the products were inaccurately labeled. The report prompted the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) to issue an advisory to the media in which NFI did not dispute the study’s findings, but argued Oceana did not cover enough ground to provide an accurate picture of the problem.

The report itself acknowledged the lack of scope. The authors wrote: “This study was not designed to be a scientifically representative survey of authenticated shrimp products typically available on all menus and grocery stores, but an investigation into whether what is portrayed on a label is actually what the customer received.”

“Our study was not designed to be a census by any means,” Brogan told SeafoodSource. “We don’t have the resources to do a national study, to do it in every grocery store or restaurant around the country. We did this as a sampling to confirm what we’d been hearing from participants in the shrimp industry and others around the country.”

Brogan added that the limited scope of the study also prevented a more comprehensive look at farmed shrimp and how it is treated and/or mislabeled in the industry.

What little the group did study showed “over half” of samples labeled with a generic “shrimp” label were actually wild shrimp, which generally sell at a premium. Brogan said neither he nor Oceana could explain why a vendor would mislabel shrimp in a way that would bring in less rather than more revenue.

“That’s a very good question. It was one of the things that had us scratching our heads,” he said. “I don’t know what the motivations may be. We just know that it’s been happening.”

Oceana’s report recommended new regulations to address the problem, and Brogan cited the presidential task force studying illegal fishing and seafood fraud right now. Commissioned in June, it is due to make recommendations for action to the Obama administration in December.

Some critics, including NFI, have argued that more regulation will simply create redundant burdens on the industry, and enforcement of current regulations, not creating new ones, is the answer. Brogan said this week that existing regulations, which he described as a “patchwork,” aren’t good enough, and called for a new “streamlined, comprehensive” approach.

“We want to make sure there’s mandatory traceability,” he said.

As for seafood companies that are complying with existing rules now, sometimes at great expense, Brogan said if new laws are written, “They (seafood companies) may very well already be satisfying any new requirements that are out there and that’s great and should be no big change for them.”

Click here to watch the full interview on SeafoodSourceTV >

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