Oceana finds more seafood mislabeling in Canada

Published on
November 30, 2017

A new Oceana Canada report has found that nearly half of seafood samples tested in Ottawa, Ontario, were mislabeled.

After testing seafood samples at 10 grocery stores, 22 restaurants, and 12 sushi vendors, Oceana Canada found that 45 of the 98 samples were mislabeled. One-third of the samples were consid-ered to be species substitutions, since the name on the menu or label did not match the type of fish being sold, according to the organization.

Among Oceana’s findings in Ottawa:

  • The most commonly mislabeled fish was red snapper, followed by salmon, halibut, snapper, white tuna, and cod.
  • Twenty percent of the mislabeled fish were farmed fish that were mislabeled as “wild,” such as “Pacific salmon,” which was actually farmed Atlantic salmon.
  • Escolar was found as a common substitute for both white tuna and butterfish.
  • Seafood fraud and mislabeling were found in 14 of the 19 different types of fish targeted. 
  • Restaurants had the highest rates of seafood fraud and mislabeling, with 68 percent of sushi ven-dor samples and 51 percent of non-sushi restaurant samples mislabeled. Mislabeling occurred at some of the “most popular and prestigious restaurants and those known for serving sustainable seafood,” Oceana said.
  • Eighteen percent of grocery store samples were mislabeled.

"Seafood fraud cheats Canadian consumers and hurts local, honest fishers as well as chefs and seafood companies looking to purchase sustainable seafood,” Oceana Canada Executive Director Josh Laughren said. “It causes health concerns and also masks global human rights abuses by creating a market for illegally caught fish.”

Oceana’s findings in Ottawa found similar results as its 2012 tests in Los Angeles, which found a 55 percent seafood mislabeling rate, and in New York City, which had a 39 percent mislabeling rate. In addition, the organization published a study last tyear that found an average of one in five seafood samples of more than 25,000 taken from restaurants around the world were different than what they were labeled.

However, the latest Oceana report on Ottawa is incomplete and does not provide the full picture - or solutions – to seafood fraud, according to the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), the U.S. seafood industry trade group. 

“Seafood fraud is a real thing and should be addressed, but Oceana Canada’s research – like all of the Oceana research on this topic thus far – falls dramatically short,” Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications for NFI, told SeafoodSource. “The group’s testing and reporting fits a hyperbolic model in which they do half the work and twice the warning.”

Oceana appears to have simply tested products and examined those products’ labels, Gibbons explained. 

“Such an approach only tells consumers that a product was mislabeled when purchased, but not where the mislabeling happened – and that’s the real actionable question,” he said. “Oceana Canada spends much of its report extolling the virtue of DNA barcoding and full chain traceabil-ity, yet it never ventured into the back of the house to ask, ‘What’s the label on the box say?’ Doing half an investigation, and then sounding the alarm, isn’t particularly helpful in addressing this challenge.”

Contributing Editor

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