This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. If you eat seafood, even occasionally, there's a good chance you've been served a fish species you didn't order. A new months-long investigation by ocean advocacy group Oceana finds widespread and persistent fraud in the US seafood industry. The organization tested 449 fish from more than 250 restaurants, seafood markets, and grocery stores across the country and found that 21 percent of samples were mislabeled. In two restaurants in Florida, cheap imported Asian catfish and spinycheek grouper, a species found only in the Indian Ocean, were sold as hogfish.
Los Angeles diners chowing down on sushi may be surprised to learn that their yellowtail roll might not really have any yellowtail in it at all. A new study from the University California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Loyola Marymount University (LMU) found that 47 percent of sushi in L.A. eateries is mislabeled as the wrong fish. The study, which examined 26 area restaurants from 2012 to 2015, discovered that while tuna was almost always tuna, and salmon was almost always salmon, plenty of fish were masquerading as something else. But out of 43 orders of halibut and 32 orders of red snapper, DNA testing showed a different kind of fish being used everytime -- in both cases flounder (some species of which are considered severely overfished by Seafood Watch) was the substitute. "Fish fraud could be accidental, but I suspect that in some cases the mislabeling is very much intentional, though it's hard to know where in the supply chain it begins," wrote Paul Barber, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the study.
Seafood fraud is still a problem in the U.S., despite a 2018 government program attempting to curb the practice, a new study has found. The report, published Thursday by advocacy group Oceana, found that 21 percent of fish not under the Seafood Import Monitoring Program are mislabeled in grocery stores and restaurants. The organization tested 449 fish from more than 250 grocery stores, markets and restaurants in 24 states and Washington, D.C. between March and August 2018. They analyzed fish that were not included in the government's traceability program, which only covers 13 species of fish, though even those fish are only tracked from the boat to the U.S. border. According to the investigation, sea bass was the most likely fish to be mislabeled -- at 55 percent -- and snapper was the second most likely -- at 42 percent.
On a morning in early spring, at a dock alongside a popular Central Florida boardwalk, Jason DeLaCruz helps his crew unload 11,700 pounds of grouper, red snapper, and bycatch from the boat The Blackjack. The six men work quickly to grade the day's catch, plopping each fish into sturdy cardboard vats layered with ice. They have good reason to hurry: They'll need to jump through several extra hoops--more than most operations--before sending it all to market. That's because, in addition to running his Madeira Beach seafood operation, DeLaCruz is the executive director of a nonprofit conservation agency called Gulf Wild. By affixing a data tag onto the gill of each fish, Gulf Wild captains provide consumers with details about the location of the catch, which boat pulled it in and with what gear, and even the quality of the water it swam in.
During an innovation in seafood event last year, one participant called the seafood industry "the most antiquated" he'd ever seen when it comes to traceability. "This industry reminds me of thick San Francisco fog," said Mark Barnekow, CEO of BluWrap, a seafood transportation company -- a fog that's served to mask a slew of entrenched problems. Pirate fishing, for one, is a global concern. Up to 12 billion worth of seafood is caught illegally by pirates every year, according to the State Department. Pirate fishing is linked to enormous environmental impacts, including destructive fishing practices, as well as drug and human trafficking and other crimes.