A recent analysis of 44 studies spanning 30 countries found that 36% of seafood samples were mislabeled. The DNA analyses in these studies tested a total of 9,000 samples of fish and other seafood in restaurants, fishmongers, and supermarkets. In one of the studies looking at ‘snapper’ (fish) the UK and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling, at 55%, followed by the US at 38%.
Sometimes they were labelled as a different species in the same family, and in other cases the samples turned out to be of endangered fish species. Finally, there were also cases where processed seafood (prawn balls) frequently contained pork and even no trace of prawn.
Fish fraud is not a recent issue, and it has long been known worldwide. The complex supply chain and lack of transparency make it easy to mislabel fish for profit. It is often low-value fish that is mislabeled as high-value fish, while farmed fish is sold as ‘caught in the wild’. Due to this tendency to label fish as having a higher value, the authors of this analysis concluded that more often than not these were cases of fraud rather than carelessness.
The mislabeling can cause health risks (e.g. parasites in specific species), and reduce the nutritional value taken-in by consumers (e.g. lower levels of omega-3).
The ease with which this fraud can take place is linked to illegal and unregulated fishing where the large catch of is processed on board. At the same time, legally caught, high-value fishermen are forced to lower their prices to compete with cheap, mislabeled fish.
The opaque supply chain and low risk of getting caught, in combination with higher monetary value, increase the incentive to fish and process the catch illegally.
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