Posts Tagged 'Seafood fraud'

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: 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.


Thoughtful Thursdays: Understanding Seafood Fraud


We all know that the seafood choices we make directly affect the health of our oceans. How the fish is fished or farmed, where it is fished or farmed, if it is overfished, if other species are accidentally caught along with the desired species: all of these issues make a difference in the overall health of our marine ecosystems. Fortunately, there are tools that are available to help us make the right choices both in grocery stores and in seafood restaurants.

What happens, though, when make the effort to make the right choices, but we are sold mislabeled fish and we end up eating something completely different from what we ordered? This is one of the major aspects of Seafood Fraud, and it happens more often than we think. To raise awareness of this important conservation issue, seafood fraud was the chosen theme of last night’s Fresh Thoughts dinner at National Aquarium, Washington, DC.

According to a study done by our partners over at Oceana, close to 33 percent of the seafood purchased in the US is mislabeled.

This is not necessarily the fault of the restaurant or grocery store. Mislabeling can happen anywhere in the supply chain. A vast majority of the seafood we consume in the US is imported. There are several steps involved in getting a fish caught or farmed in a foreign county onto your dinner plate. Many folks are involved (fishermen, farmers, distributors, importers, exporters, etc) and there are limited resources available to inspect seafood imports. Further more, generally consumers have a limited ability to truly recognize what fish we’re eating. The situation is ripe for us to be taken advantage of.

This hurts us as consumers and as concerned citizens of our blue planet. Often, we are sold cheaper fish in place of premium species that we desire. This trend also hurts honest fishermen, distributors and chefs that are doing their best to make responsible business decisions while providing for their families. Just as importantly, though, is the harm this is causing to our marine ecosystems. Knowing the growing trend for choosing sustainable seafood, sustainable choices are often swapped with seafood that is “red-listed” to take advantage of the willingness to pay a little bit more for seafood that supports healthy oceans.

“The best way to combat seafood fraud is to require traceability – or the ability to track our fish from boat to plate.” said Beth Lowell, campaign director for Oceana, during last night’s event. We as consumers need to be assured of the source of our seafood. In the US, fishermen already provide much of this information upon landing. Unfortunately, there is no accountability in making sure it then is kept intact throughout the rest of the supply chain. And for the vast majority of the seafood that we consume that in imported, there are almost no checks and balances in place to protect the consumer.

So, what can we do? Here are some simple ways you can help combat this issue:

  • We have to let our elected officials know that we are aware of this issue and are concerned about how it is affecting our families, our economy and our oceans. Tell your Senator you want to help them fight seafood fraud!
  • Take steps to understand and decrease the number of steps it takes for the seafood that you consume to get from the boat to your plate. In Maryland, for example there is a True Blue program that identifies restaurants that are selling locally sourced crab meat. Many Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are also developing across the country. These programs make a direct link to consumers and local fishermen, allowing us to purchase healthy, local seafood while supporting our local economies.
  • Spread the word to friends and family. Awareness is the first, and arguably most critical, step to harnessing real change!


Fresh Thoughts Recipe: Escabeche-Style Grouper

Guests who attend the June 19 Fresh Thoughts dinner at the National Aquarium, Washington, DC, will enjoy a cocktail reception and fine-dining experience from Chef Xavier Deshayes. The dinner’s courses will pair commonly swapped species side-by-side and ask the audience to identify the fish on their plate, begging the question “Do you know what you’re really eating?” The interactive dining experience will include a hearty discussion on seafood fraud with Chef Deshayes, National Aquarium and Oceana experts.

We’re excited to host this dinner in partnership with Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. 

Can’t wait until Wednesday’s dinner to sample the amazing dishes Chef Deshayes has prepared? Try out his recipe for Escabeche-Style Grouper with a Warm Fingerling Potato Salad:

Ingredients for the Escabeche

  •  1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  •  1/2 teaspoon black pepper corn
  • 16 to 24 ounce of black grouper fillet (or any other local, sustainably-sourced grouper) cut on 4 ounce pc.
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  •  1 medium shallot, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment d’espelette
  •  1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 strips lemon zest


  1. Combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Pat the grouper dry and toss to coat with the seasoned flour.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan set over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Carefully add the grouper to the pan. Cook on each side for 1 minute.
  3. Using tongs or a fish spatula, transfer the grouper to a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallot, and cook until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, thyme, coriander, piment d’espelette, white wine, vinegar, and lemon zest. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and pour the marinade over the fish. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 1 hour before serving. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 12 hours.

Ingredients for the potato salad

  • 1 pound boiling fingerling potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons good dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup of whipped cream
  • 1 tablespoons of whole grain mustard


  1. Drop the fingerlings potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in 1/2 (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
  2. Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Keep the fingerlings potatoes warm. In a bowl mix the whipped cream and whole grain mustard, verified seasoning (reserved for presentation)
  3. At the serving time place on each plate some of the potatoes salad in a center and place the grouper on the top of it. Add a dash of mustard whipped cream on top and a serve.

Want to learn more about our Fresh Thoughts program or reserve tickets for our upcoming dinner in Washington, DC? Click here

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