Study: Imported Seafood Continues To Be Mislabeled Despite Federal Oversight

Mar 8, 2019

One out of five seafood samples taken from across the country, including Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, are mislabeled. That’s according to a study by Oceana, a nonprofit organization that promotes marine conservation.

Of all the seafood consumed in the U.S., more than 80 percent (2.6 million tons) is imported. And while U.S. fisheries are regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, for their environmental impact and risk to consumers, foreign fisheries may not be.

The study, released March 7, found that small independent grocery stores and restaurants were more likely to advertise fish as locally caught or an expensive product (namely, sea bass) that was in fact a cheap import.

“There’s a chance that what (consumers) ordered or what they’re feeding their families is not what they’ve paid for,” said Kim Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana who co-authored the study.

NOAA told Harvest Public Media that its Seafood Import Monitoring Program was implemented last year to track the origins of 13 seafood species. NOAA considers these species to be the most vulnerable to illegal fishing and fraud, but the agency does not track imported seafood once it reaches the U.S. market.

Oceana’s study found cases in which seafood had been mislabeled by the foreign producers. The Asian pangasius fish is farmed in China and commonly labeled as “catfish,” even though that name is reserved for species grown in the U.S.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Chinese fisheries are known to use antibiotics and chemicals that have been banned in the U.S.

This is the second such study carried out by Oceana; its first in 2010 revealed similar findings. Warner said the updated study illustrates that current federal regulations don’t go far enough.

“We have a good start but we need to finish the job and get it done so that (seafood fraud) isn’t a recurring problem,” she said.

Oceana said NOAA should trace more than the 13 species, and the FDA should those products once they’re in the U.S. supply chain.

Follow Esther on Twitter: @EstherHonig