Coho Salmon - © ontariofishspecies.com

Fish Fraud Still Rampant Across Supply Chain

I’ve spotlighted the problem of Fish mislabelling a number of times before, but I’m going to update you on the issue, because – rather than disappearing under intense scrutiny – the situation remains bad. And it appears that there’s malfeasance at all stages of the supply chain…

Fish Labeling Cartoon - © cagle.comAnd the mislabelling/misrepresentation problem is not limited to the
retail supply chain, either. Restaurateurs are always struggling
to maintain their already thin profit margins, and some
will take any opportunity to save a buck…

A refresher…

Back in April 2013, we reported on an investigation by the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) at the University of Guelph, which revealed that 41 percent of the Fish randomly DNA tested in both Canada and the U.S. was not what it was claimed to be. Example: 87 percent of fish labelled Red Snapper was not Red Snapper, and 59 percent of Fish labelled fresh Tuna was not Tuna.

Fast Forward…

Now, a new study of Fish sold in Canada shows that the problem is not as bad as it was, but it still pervades the supply chain. Using DNA testing again, U. of Guelph researchers found that 32 percent of the fish randomly tested was not what the label said it was. Stated another way, a third of the samples tested were cheaper, less desirable species substituted for more expensive varieties. And the price was boosted to reflect the more expensive product. That’s fraud.

In the new investigation, researchers tested 203 samples from 12 different species collected from a number of different importers, processing plants and retailers. Some 17.6 was identified as mislabelled at the import stage, 27.3 per cent of samples from at processing plants was mislabelled, and 38.1 per cent of the samples obtained from retailers was not what it was advertised to be. Or… An additional 10 percent of the Fish tested was mislabelled at each succeeding stage of the supply chain.

Why is this happening?

The bad guys in the Fish supply chain get away with their massive fraud because the vast majority of consumers don’t know the difference between the various popular species of fish.

I could tell you positively what I was getting if I could buy all my fish from the Asian market where they offer most of their wares as whole Fish or whole, skin-on sides. They even have a number of the most popular varieties of Fish swimming around live in huge tanks. Point to the one you want and they’ll kill and clean it for you.

But that’s a rare exception to the way fresh Fish is generally marketed. Most supermarkets and many specialty Fish and Seafood shops display their inventories As dressed fillets, ‘steaks’ or other cuts, most with the skin off so you can’t double check the colouring or markings that differentiate, say, one species of Salmon from another.

What specifically is going on?

Prof. Robert Hanner, the study’s Lead Author, told Food In Canada that the situation is not all black and white. Mislabelling can result from a number of causes.

“It’s either economically motivated, meaning cheaper fish are being purposely mislabelled as more expensive fish, or it’s inconsistent labelling regulations between countries and the use of broader common [family] names being used to label fish instead of scientific species names that are leading to mislabelling. It creates ambiguity and opens the door for fraud or honest mistakes. It also makes it more difficult to track species at risk or indicate if a fish is a species that has higher mercury content. At the end of the day, Canadian consumers don’t really know what type of fish they are eating.”

My take…

I agree with the conclusions of the study, that more-specific labelling of Fish at the retail level is needed to weed out fraud. In Europe, the EC’s marketing regulations require all Fish to be labelled with not only the broad ‘family’ name (eg. – ‘Tuna’) but also the specific species name (ig. – ‘Albacore’), and there is much less labelling fraud there.

But I also think consumers need to educate themselves better on how to identify and assess the condition of the fresh Fish products they’re considering purchasing. In the end, it’s up to the consumer to accept or reject what the retailers offer.

Sister Erin, when I tell her all this, just sighs and says she wishes she was back in Vancouver, where she worked for several years, and where she could go down to the pier and buy whole fresh-caught Salmon right off the fishing boats. She took for granted what to the other 99 percent of us would consider a rare luxury!

~ Maggie J.

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