Study shows high seafood mislabeling rate in Vancouver

A newly-published study shows that 25 percent of the seafood samples tested in metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, were mislabeled.

The study, published in the June 18 edition of Food Control, found the mislabeling — most commonly of red snapper — in grocery stores, sushi bars, and non-sushi restaurants.

“The most important finding is that the fish fraud/mislabeling rate in metro Vancouver is still relatively high compared to 10 years ago [referring to a similar study in Vancouver],” Xiaonan Lu, PhD, senior corresponding author of the study and associate professor of food science at the University of British Columbia, told SeafoodSource.

While the 10-year-old study showed a 25 percent mislabeling rate, it used a much smaller samples size, according to Lu. In the UBC study, in cooperation with Oceana Canada and the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, researchers tested nearly 300 samples of fish using DNA barcoding.

Lu declined to list names of restaurants and grocery stores where the fish samples were taken.

While the mislabeling rate of 25 percent is high, it is lower than the near 50 percent mislabeling rates reported by Oceana in some Canadian and United States studies, according to Lu.

In the UBC study, snapper was the most commonly mislabeled fish at a 95 percent rate. Around 45 percent of cod was also mislabeled, followed by 33 percent of halibut, 8.8 percent of salmon, and 7 percent of tuna.

“Canada is one of the top seafood-producing countries in the world and our industry complies with much more stringent labelling when exporting products to the European Union, but Canadian consumers don’t benefit from this same level of transparency at home,” said Robert Hanner, chief technology officer at TRU-ID, in a UBC press release. “This situation compromises consumer choice and even facilitates laundering illegally harvested seafood into the domestic market, at the expense of legitimate suppliers. This situation must change.”

The researchers found evidence of both intentional and unintentional mislabelling. For example, many fish sold as snapper or red snapper were actually far less valued species such as tilapia. Sutchi catfish took the place halibut, snapper, sole and cod. 

Economic motivations were less likely in other cases, such as the substitution of sockeye for pink salmon, according to the researchers.

“The entire seafood/fish supply chain is very complicated. We only have the access to the final products sold at the restaurant, sushi venue, etc. Therefore, at this stage, it is impossible to find out where the seafood fraud happens,” Lu said.

Lu originally revealed initial findings from the study, conducted between September, 2017, and February, 2018, in late January.


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