The prevalence of mislabeled seafood has grown to such a level that it threatens to impact the integrity of the entire market for seafood. Victims of seafood fraud not only include consumers, but also food retailers that are trusting a supply chain that is fraught with misleading labeling practices.
A 2015 Oceana study revealed the mislabeling of one of the America’s favorite fish—salmon. Oceana collected 82 salmon samples from restaurants and grocery stores and found that 43 percent were mislabeled. DNA testing confirmed that most of the mislabeling consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild-caught product. Further, in September 2016 Oceana tested 25,000 samples of seafood caught around the globe, and said an average of one out of five samples was mislabeled. The organization reviewed more than 200 published studies from 55 countries, with all but one finding seafood fraud. Fraud was found in every sector of the supply chain.
While seafood fraud is a global issue, for the U.S. it is particularly unsettling as more than 90 percent of the country’s consumed seafood is imported from other countries around the world…and from countries lacking stringent aquaculture laws.
Retailers and consumers deserve to know the facts about their seafood’s supply chain journey, including what kind of fish it is, how and where it was caught and processed (i.e. is it from legal fishing waters, a sustainable fishery, produced without any forced labor or child labor?), and most importantly, trust the information is accurate. Food retailers and restaurateurs refusing to acknowledge seafood fraud risk damage to their corporate reputation, integrity, and balance sheet. So what’s being done about it?
A lot can happen during the journey from a fisherman’s boat to the shelf to the dinner table. Many food retailers and restaurants are investing in traceability strategies to gain better insight into a seafood product’s itinerary for the following four reasons.
- Quality. Knowing the seafood’s journey and how it has been caught or handled along the way will tell food retailers a lot about its quality.
- Trust. Each species has a specific taste, recognition, and value in the market. Traceable products track who handles and treats the product at each step of the supply chain—if the seafood is traceable, food retailers can feel confident that they are getting the right species they paid for.
- Health. Traceability alleviates health concerns allowing food retailers to recall bad product and hold suppliers and processors accountable; provide accurate freshness dates; and identify whether or not acceptable chemical additives were used to preserve the product.
- Sustainability. Consumers are growing more concerned by over-fishing, bio-diversity reduction, ocean pollution, and bad social practices in the seafood industry. Traceability allows food retailers and restaurants to ensure their fish are coming from a sustainable and reputable source.
A number of supply chain traceability programs have been developed to ensure the integrity of seafood supply chains. For example, the Obama Administration announced on Dec. 8, 2016 that it had implemented a program to help prevent illegal fishing and seafood fraud. The final rule, scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1 of 2018, directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to install a Seafood Import Monitoring Program that will track about 25 percent of imported seafood from fishing boat to U.S. borders. The rule seeks to decrease the incidence of seafood fraud by requiring product reporting at the time of importation to the U.S. government and complying with a report verification process.
As cited per the Federal Register, pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the final rule establishes permitting, reporting, and recordkeeping procedures relating to the importation of certain fish and fish products identified as being at particular risk of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing or seafood fraud.