Oceana Report Uncovers High Cost of Seafood Fraud

Oceana released a new report investigating the high price of seafood mislabeling in the United States, finding that commonly swapped species can cost up to twice as much as their cheaper counterparts. In February, Oceana released a study that found one-third of seafood tested across the country was mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. This new report follows up on Oceana’s results by examining the economic cost of seafood fraud that is passed on to consumers who pay for a high-quality fish and receive a less expensive or less desirable species.

“Swapping a lower cost fish for a higher value one is like ordering a filet mignon and getting a hamburger instead,” said report author and Oceana senior scientist Margot Stiles. “If a consumer eats mislabeled fish even just once a week, they could be losing up to hundreds of dollars each year due to seafood fraud.”

Oceana interviewed experts working in the seafood industry to figure out what drives cost differences for different species, as well as reviewed 300 menus from 12 different cities to help estimate retail prices. According to the report, a substitution of lower cost species like tilapia for the more expensive grouper could gouge consumers more than $10 for an eight ounce fillet in a restaurant, and the common mislabeling of farmed Atlantic salmon for wild salmon can add an extra $5 to a customer’s bill.

Consumers can also be victims of fraud in grocery stores, where fillets of higher-cost fish are priced $4 more than cheaper substitutes. These dramatic price differences create a clear economic incentive for fraud.

Seafood follows a complex path from boat to plate, often crossing ocean basins and stopping in different countries before it makes it to the final point of sale.  Each stop in the supply chain offers opportunity for fraud.  Without traceability, or requiring information to follow the fish through the supply chain that is transparent and verifiable, consumers can be subject to fraud at every step of the way.

“Consumers deserve to know their seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled, including information like where, when and how it was taken out of the ocean.  The more information that follows the fish, the harder it will be for fraudsters to rip off American consumers,” Stiles said.

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