Posts Tagged 'oceana'

Do You Know Where Your Seafood is REALLY From?

maryland crab cake infographic

By now, you know that over 1/3 of the seafood purchased in the United States is mislabeled.

According to a comprehensive study by our partners over at Oceana, some seafood is intentionally mislabeled to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices, which directly impacts restaurant and market owners who then misrepresent their products to the consumer.

Here are some important things to know about seafood labeling procedures/regulations in the US:

  • Ninety-one percent of our seafood is imported from other countries, with a large portion of that product coming from Asia.
  • Only 2 percent of seafood imported into the US is inspected and just .001 percent is inspected for fraud.
  • Over 1,700 different species of seafood are available for sale in the US, including species found both domestically and internationally.
  • The most commonly mislabeled fish types discussed in Oceana’s study were: snapper, tuna, cod, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.
  • Nationwide, the mislabeling of seafood is most prevalent in California, New York City and Miami.
  • Outside of some guidelines put forth by the Food and Drug Administration, there is no current federal legislation to combat seafood fraud (both intentional and unintentional).
  • Some states, including our home state of Maryland, have put forth legislation to regulate these processes.

Have questions/comments about seafood labeling practices in the United States? Share them with us below! 

Guest Post: Fighting Seafood Fraud Protects Our Health and the Environment

government affairs and policy update

Today’s post comes from Jillian Fry, PhD, MPH. She is the Director of the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. In her role, Jillian works to engage public health communities in research, communication, education, policy, and advocacy activities aiming to increase understanding of the public health implications of industrial aquaculture practices and to move toward more sustainable and responsible methods of production. 

In support of that important work, Jillian is a strong advocate here in Maryland for the fight against seafood fraud.

Are you getting the seafood you are paying for? Maybe not– an investigation by Oceana revealed last year that a third of seafood sampled in the U.S. was mislabeled. In an effort to reduce seafood fraud, The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act was introduced in this year’s state legislative session, and I strongly support the bill due to the potential effects of mislabeled seafood on human health, fish populations, and the environment.

People choose the seafood species they eat based on many factors—how it tastes, health benefits, if it’s responsibly fished or farmed, and if it’s generally known to have low contaminant levels. Many seafood guides exist, such as the popular Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium, to help consumers make choices about seafood, but efforts to educate consumers about safe and environmentally sustainable fish have a reduced impact if seafood is not accurately labeled.

monterey bay aquarium seafood watch

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide.

When purchasing wild-caught fish, consumers should seek species known to be from well-managed fisheries to avoid overfishing and bycatch concerns. In the case of farm-raised fish, it should be from an operation that avoids use of chemicals, antibiotics, high densities of fish, and feed made mostly from small fish caught in the ocean (this contributes to overfishing). In addition, certain fish carry advisories, especially for pregnant women and young children, to limit or avoid due to contamination of heavy metals or chemicals.

Oceana’s investigation found overfished species sold as fish from well managed fisheries (e.g., Atlantic halibut as Pacific halibut), farmed fish sold as wild-caught (e.g., farmed tilapia as red snapper), and fish with health advisories being sold as fish with no advisories (e.g., tilefish as red snapper and halibut).

One goal of educating consumers about healthy and sustainable seafood options is to shift demand and change commercial fishing and aquaculture practices. But, if producers can pass off their product as a fish known to be safe and ecologically sustainable, there is little incentive to change practices due to market forces. This also puts honest wild-caught fishers and fish farmers at a disadvantage. To increase demand for fish that are safe and caught or produced sustainably, we need to know what we are eating and where it comes from, and that is why we need better monitoring and enforcement of seafood labeling in Maryland.

For more information on Jillian and the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project’s work, click here. For more information on The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act, click here


Thoughtful Thursday: The Key to Sustainable Seafood is Information


In this space, we’ve often discussed how our seafood choices reach far beyond the particular fish on your plate and are related to healthy ocean ecosystems, healthy economies and healthy families.  As a result of the increase in communication from organizations like us on this issue, more and more people are paying attention to the seafood they purchase. There is new consumer awareness around the link between the fish we choose to feed our families and the health of our rivers, bays and oceans.

Primary to all of these efforts to make thoughtful choices is information.  Without accurate information about how and where our seafood is caught, our efforts to protect our aquatic ecosystems can be fairly ineffective. Inadequate or wrong information can lead you to think you are supporting local fishermen when you are not.  Worse yet, it can lead to making choices that support overfishing or habitat destruction.

 Accurate information is key to seafood sustainability, and it is why the National Aquarium will be supporting the “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act.” If passed, this legislation would ensure that seafood sold in the state is labeled with the correct species name and location of harvest – giving consumers the tools they need to make the right decisions.

In a recent study, our partners at Oceana revealed that 1 out of every 3 seafood samples they purchased were mislabeled.  Sometimes this is done intentionally to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices. The problem is that even honest restaurant and market owners can mislabel their product if every step in the supply chain is not verified.

seafood fraud quiz fresh thoughts

Locally, this can have a big impact on our fishing communities. This industry is an intrinsic part of the culture of this state, and we take great pride in our local seafood, like blue crab, rockfish, oysters, etc.

Take a closer look at crabs, for example. Many Marylanders grow up eating bushels of crabs with family and friends at backyard barbecues and can recite their favorite crab cake recipe from memory. There is a bustling tourist industry that revolves around the “Maryland crab cake.”  Yet millions of pounds of crab meat are imported into Maryland every year. While just about every seafood restaurant in the state highlights their own version of the Maryland crab cake, there’s no telling if the cakes are actually being prepared with locally harvested crab meat.

Using our collective power as consumers to show support for local sustainable fishing communities, like our Maryland crabbers, will be an important step in the future success of healthy communities and ecosystems. Requiring accurate seafood labeling is an imperative part of this process.

Laura Bankey

Bill Introduced in Maryland House to Combat Seafood Fraud

national aquarium government affairs and policy update

Earlier this week, Delegate Eric Luedtke introduced a bill that would provide Maryland residents with better information on the origin of purchased seafood.

The “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act” (House Bill 913) is the first piece of legislation introduced in the state of Maryland that directly addresses seafood fraud. According to our partners at Oceana, at least one-third of all seafood items purchased in the United States are mislabeled. They also reported that 26 percent of tested seafood in the DC metro area was mislabeled.

Citizens can have a tremendous positive impact on the health of our bays and oceans through their everyday consumer choices. The effectiveness of these choices is directly linked to the reliability of the information provided. Proper identification opens the doorway to increased knowledge of where seafood is raised and harvested, contributes to the movement of sustainable fishing practices and sustainably minded consumers, and results in a healthier ocean.

The National Aquarium is proud to support this bill: we cannot properly protect the ocean without fully understanding its creatures and our relationship to them. A large amount of our interaction with fish and shellfish occurs in the kitchen and in restaurants, and the more we can know about where our food is from the better we will understand this relationship.

Through educational programming, conservation action, special events like our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Seafood Dining Series, and in supporting policy initiatives like this one, the National Aquarium places a high priority on promoting and supporting seafood that is caught both locally and sustainably.

Here are the five things you need to know about the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act:

  1. This bill specifically prohibits any person from knowingly misidentifying the species of seafood product being sold in the state of Maryland.
  2. This bill requires that species, common name and state of origin be identified on restaurant menus or market signs, as appropriate.
  3. The bill requires specific identifications for crab products, barring anything that wasn’t made from the Atlantic crab species Callinectes sapidus from being labeled as “blue crab.”
  4. In addition to actively supporting this bill, Oceana has also petitioned Congress to pass federal labeling legislation. If passed, Maryland would become the 2nd state in the country to require this type seafood labeling.
  5. Over 400 chefs nationwide have signaled their support for this type of legislation, including 25 chefs from Maryland and 10 from Baltimore.

The bill will be heard in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 26th at 1:00 pm. The National Aquarium team will testify in support and will actively advocate for the bill before the entire General Assembly.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to contact your Maryland representative regarding House Bill 913? Find your legislator here.


A Blue View: Pain Killer from the Sea

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 8, 2014: Pain Killer from the Sea

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the medical uses associated with cone snails!

Over 100 million American adults live with chronic pain—more than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined. It is a significant public health problem.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that opiates such as morphine could relieve pain. Opiates, however, are associated with many adverse side effects and carry the risk of addiction.

Enter the lowly cone snail.

National Geographic Cone Snail

Image of a cone snail via National Geographic.

There are more than 3,200 species of marine predatory gastropods assigned to the genus Conus. You may recognize some of them from their beautiful shells, ranging from thimble- to palm-sized, colored in artful speckles and zig zags of brown and white. They are prized by shell collectors.

Cone snails live primarily in warm tropical and subtropical seas. Scientists became interested in cone snails as potential pharmaceutical agents because of the way they capture their prey, like which is right out of a science-fiction movie. Like archers, snails launch a venomous harpoon, a miniature hypodermic needle filled with poison, instantly immobilizing or killing their prey. To most, not a very snail-like things to do. Watch the cone snail in action: 


The venom contains conotoxins, some of which are mild central nervous system neurotoxins that cause numbness and pins and needles, but others can even kill a human.

So, if you’re ever on a tropical vacation and see a cone snail, by all means admire it’s beauty from afar, but don’t pick it up. Instead, leave the snail-wrangling to people like Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera.

As a child in the Philippines, Toto witnessed cone snails bringing down large fish and wondered what exactly made it such a potent toxin…so he decided to devote his career to finding out.

Toto and his team were the first to isolate a powerful analgesic compound from the magician’s cone snail. It is non-addictive, does not cause tolerance, has few side effects and, amazingly, is 100,000 times more powerful than morphine. Marketed under the name Prialt, it was approved in 2004 by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of severe pain. It must be administered by a spinal pump, but oral formulations are in the works.

These clinical human trials will, if successful, be the biggest leap forward in pain management since the 19th century discovery of morphine. That is joyous news to the 47 percent of American adults who suffer from chronic pain.

However, as fast as we are learning about the cone snails (and other plants, animals, and microbes whose beneficial compounds are yet to be discovered), they are being lost because of pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change. To protect cone shells, biologists are asking nations in tropical zones to take new steps to monitor the shell trade and protect reefs.

Tropical oceans are places of obvious beauty and home to thousands of creatures, including cone snails. If for no other reason, we would do well to conserve their biodiversity and reverse habitat loss to protect the largest pharmacopeia in nature, one that could save us from a world of hurt, as long as we can keep its world healthy.


A Blue View: Ocean Victories

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

January 8, 2014: Ocean Victories of 2013

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Oceana’s Beth Lowell
discuss the biggest ocean victories in 2013!

We hear a lot about the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing our ocean, yet the ocean has some powerful friends working on its behalf. Beth Lowell, Campaign Director for Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, recently sat down with our CEO John Racanelli to discuss some of 2013’s success stories and opportunities for the future.

Where does Oceana see the most opportunity for success in 2014?

Bycatch – Bycatch is defined as the incidental catching of fish and other marine wildlife (such as dolphins and sea turtles) during commercial fishing activities. This year, Oceana will be working closely with fisheries to reduce and eliminate bycatch!

Seafood Fraud – Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to increase profits. Through “Bait-to-Plate” and increased traceability, there exists the real potential to change the way our country deals with fish once it’s caught.

Organizations like National Aquarium and Oceana are dedicated to protecting and preserving the ocean and all of its inhabitants. From volunteering at conservation cleanups to signing petitions, there are many ways to show you love the ocean.


A Blue View: Seafood Fraud

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

October 30, 2013: Seafood Fraud

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and Oceana’s Beth Lowell
discuss the importance of 

Throughout October, we’ve talked about National Seafood Month and how our seafood choices and personal actions are related to healthy ocean ecosystems, healthy economies and healthy families.

Americans love to eat seafood. In fact, the United States is the second largest consumer of seafood in the world, only behind China. Unfortunately, although seafood can be healthy and delicious choice, the current lack of traceability in the U.S. seafood supply chain may be putting the oceans and seafood consumers at risk.

Americans are often left in the dark about where, when and how their seafood was caught. The only information that seafood consumers have to rely on is the label, which is often vague, misleading or even flat out false. From 2010-2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest seafood fraud studies in the world to date, collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from 21 states. DNA testing revealed that one-third (33 percent) of the samples were mislabeled, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Seafood fraud can impact everyone along the supply chain, whether it is the buyer, the seller, or the ocean itself. Consumers who avoid certain fish due to health concerns may be unwittingly ingesting a high mercury fish, as Oceana found multiple instances of in our testing. Many times, they also may be paying top prices but getting lower cost fish.

In July, Oceana released a report that evaluated the economic cost of seafood fraud. An eight-ounce fillet of tilapia, which would usually sell for about $15, could sell for as much as $22 if it was mislabeled as red snapper or $27 if it was mislabeled as grouper. In addition, a species of fish like salmon often sells for a higher price if it is labeled as wild-caught, versus farm-raised.

Seafood fraud also hurts our oceans. Illegal fishermen can launder their product into the U.S. market, not having to account for the capture method they used, or if their catch is an overfished species that warrants protection. Not only does this undermine conservation efforts, it puts honest fishermen at a competitive disadvantage.

Although some species of fish may have a distinctive look while swimming around in the ocean, they may look, smell and taste similar to another fish once they have been filleted and covered in sauce. In June, Oceana teamed up with the National Aquarium for a recent Fresh Thoughts dinner, focusing on seafood fraud. By offering dinner attendees commonly swapped fish side-by-side, Oceana demonstrated just how difficult it was for anyone, even experts, to tell between many species of fish.

seafood fraud quiz fresh thoughts

Without requiring that fish are tracked from the ocean to our plate, it can be impossible to tell if our seafood is honestly labeled. Although U.S. fishermen are required to record where, when and how their fish was caught, much of that documentation does not always stay with the fish to the end consumer.

That is why Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) are leading the charge to fight seafood fraud. The Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act was introduced in March and would require traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S, allow the U.S. to block imports of seafood suspected to be mislabeled or illegal, and improve the information consumers receive about their seafood. The bill has since gained support from chefs, restaurant owners, consumers, fishermen and environmental groups.

Fighting seafood fraud is a win for consumers, fishermen, honest seafood businesses, our oceans and our health!

Beth Lowell is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans.


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