Study Reveals Massive Seafood Fraud in the U.S.


I have already reported on fraudulent and misleading food labeling. The study that was conducted in the U.S. by Oceana – the largest international advocacy organization focused on ocean conservation – looked specifically into fish labeling. The results they presented in their comprehensive report are shocking, and call for action.

Seafood is promoted as a healthy food choice, and The American Heart Association recommends eating two seafood meals a week. The United Stated is the world’s second largest seafood consumer (China ranks number one).

90% of the seafood eaten in America is imported. By the time it reaches the consumer it has often undergone so much processing it is hard to tell what the fish you are getting actually is. There are 1,700 seafood species sold in the U.S., so it would be unrealistic to expect that an average consumer will be able to accurately recognize every single fish.

From 2010 to 2012, Oceana collected more than 1,200 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues, and checked if they were honestly labeled. DNA tests were performed to establish the true identity of each fish.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, one third of all samples were mislabeled. People were not buying and eating fish they paid for.

Fish that were cheaper and more readily available were often labeled as more desirable species. In New York and South Florida, tilefish and king mackerel that are on the FDA’s DO NOT EAT list due to their high mercury content were sold as something else. Sometimes farmed fish were labeled as wild-caught, which was especially the case with salmon.

The problem with farmed fish is that eating farmed fish may cause you more harm than good. Generally speaking, farmed fish contain high concentrations of antibiotics and pesticides. The fish live in crowded pools and are given antibiotics to survive. To combat sea lice, strong pesticides are sprayed on them. You can get more details in my post on why you should NEVER eat Tilapia and other farmed fish.

Oceana concluded that mislabeling occurred in 59% of the fish they tested. Snapper and tuna were the most commonly mislabeled fish. Of the 120 red snapper samples taken, only 7 were honestly labeled. Across the country, fish sold as tuna was in fact escolar in 84% of the cases. Escolar is known to cause serious digestive issues for some individuals.

Retail outlets that most commonly mislabeled their fish were sushi venues (74%), followed by restaurants (38%) and grocery stores (18%).

It has not been established yet where in the supply chain this seafood fraud actually takes place. It could be already on the boat, during processing, at the retail counter or somewhere along the way. Oceana is urging for better seafood traceability, or tracking fish from boat to plate, which would significantly reduce the chances of fraud and protect the consumers’ health as well as the wellbeing of oceans and vulnerable fish populations.

What can you do?

  • Ask questions about the origin and type of fish you are purchasing.
  • Check the price. If you are getting a suspiciously good bargain, the chances are you are being sold a different species than what is on the label.
  • Buy the whole fish. It is of course much harder to swap one species for another if you are purchasing the whole fish.

If you love to eat shrimp then you should also be aware of the dangers related to eating shrimp. Shrimp is America’s number one seafood. They are eaten as a quick snack, prepared as a side dish and are an invaluable part of many sushi rolls. Various supermarkets sell imported wild and farmed shrimp at a surprisingly low price. Have you ever wondered how come food that has traveled from the other side of the planet is so cheap?  You can get the surprising answer here.