illegal scams are common in the seafood industry
In restaurants, no one would be foolish enough to try to pass beef as chicken, but fish is a different story. Fish and other seafood items are often mislabeled and sold to others in the supply chain and to you, the consumer.
We’re talking about seafood fraud!
What is seafood fraud?
"Seafood fraud" is a term that umbrellas several different acts (such as mislabeling and short-weighing with preservatives) that are absurdly profitable and poorly regulated.
In 2010 the former CEO of Sterling Seafood Corporation confessed that he purposely imported cheap Vietnamese catfish and switched its name tag to a pricier "grouper" to avoid $60 million US in anti-dumping tariffs. The CEO orchestrated this mislabeling scheme for at least two years until the government got word.
Mislabeling is not the only type of seafood fraud and large operations are not the only players netting huge profits from these acts.
How common is seafood fraud?
More than 1 out of 3 fish are mislabeled.
Oceana is a leader in ocean conservation and progressive environmental policy. In 2013 they conducted the largest seafood DNA sampling effort on fish being sold in restaurants and grocery store to identify how common seafood fraud is throughout the U.S. This investigation found that 1 out of 3 fish are mislabeled, most notably red snapper and tuna. Additionally, in October of 2015, Oceana released another seafood fraud report on America's favorite fish family, the salmons. They found that 43 percent of salmon samples were mislabeled when wild salmon was not in season.
View Oceana Reports
2013 Oceana National Seafood Fraud Report
2015 Oceana Salmon Testing Report
In addition, there are boatloads of unreported, unregulated, and illegal fish being caught and sold under legal fish names. The federal government is taking a step in the right direction with the formation of the National Ocean Council Committee (NOC) on Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud.
While they talk, take the next few scrolls down to familiarize yourself with some of these tasteless acts.
Common Practices Within Seafood Fraud
SHORT-WEIGHTING WITH SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE (STPP)
STPP is a colorless, tasteless and odorless salt that is used to preserve food, including seafood, and is also found in paints and cleaning products. As a food preservative, STPP encourages cells to soak up water. This water retention makes seafood look plump, bright white, and "fresh". Yum!
Seafood that is not treated with STPP is called "Dry" while seafood that is treated with STPP may be called "Wet" (See Dry vs. Wet Scallops).
Not only do consumers end up paying more money for "Wet" seafood because of the added water weight, but the seafood decreases in size and changes in texture when the water is cooked out. Excessive "Wet" treatment destroys the quality of the protein during the cooking process-it creates a "soapy" flavor and crumbly texture. Yeah, we’re going to pass.
HOW WET SEAFOOD IS CREATED
Once caught and cut, the seafood destined to be "Wet" will be stored in the STPP soaking solution. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), 11 pounds of both STPP and Sodium Phosphate are mixed with 24 gallons of water to create a soaking solution.
2. OVER GLAZING (ICE COATING)
When a fillet of fish is frozen, it will receive additional layers of frozen water that protects the fillet. This ice covering is called the "ice coating" or glaze. The consumer pays for the coating's weight when buying frozen fish. It is expensive water to pay for, especially if the fish is over glazed and considered a high-value fish.
3. BAIT AND SWITCH
The "bait and switch" is when the consumer/buyer is paying for one kind of fish but is purposely receiving a completely different kind of fish.
While the bait and switch most notably happens at restaurants, it can happen anywhere within the supply chain with any kind of fish. For instance, "Bay Scallops" may actually be small round hole punches of skate wing. Wild salmon commonly ends up being farmed salmon and pricey and over-consumed "Atlantic cod" very well could be cheaper "Pacific cod" from across the country. There are even accounts of Mako shark being sold as swordfish.
Even some legally acceptable labeling is misleading!
There are multiple FDA approved "Acceptable Market Names" for a single fish. Acadian Redfish (Sebastes fasciatus ) is a tasty local deep water Atlantic species that is commonly marketed as "Redfish", "Ocean Perch" and "Rockfish"; however, "Rockfish" is also an "Acceptable Market Name" for dozens of pacific fishes, too. How is a customer suppose to know which fish they are ordering and receiving?
This legal ambiguity and mislabeling allows endangered and illegal species (even those toxic to our health) to be caught and sold under an "Acceptable Market Name". Take grouper for example in the following video ...
ready to protect your health and wallet?
We wouldn’t tell you all about seafood fraud and not provide advice! Check out our next article Trick or Treat? How to Avoid Seafood Fraud and Find Better Fish in New England