An Unsettling Amount Of Fish Is Mislabeled

Buying fish is a bit of a crapshoot. You might get what’s on the label or what the waiter says it is. Or, quite likely, you’ll eat a different breed entirely. There’s an unsettling amount of mislabeled fish out there, according to a new report.

Oceana, an oceans advocacy group, scoured 202 new “seafood fraud” studies since its last report in 2014. Across 25,000 individual fish inspections, it found a mislabeling rate of one in five. Up to 20% of the fish test turned out to be substituted, or made to appear of higher value than reality.

“Seafood fraud . . . threatens consumer health and safety, cheats consumers when they pay higher prices for a mislabeled lower-value fish, and hides harmful practices like illegal fishing, poorly regulated aquaculture and human rights abuses,” Oceana notes.

Pangasius, a type of Asian catfish, is the most faked fish, most frequently standing in for wilder, higher-value fish (Pangasius is also known as “basa fish,” “swai,” or “bocourti” in North America). Worldwide, pangasius has stood in for 18 types of fish, Oceana says, notably perch and grouper. It sometime goes by the names “river cobbler,” “cobbler,” or even yellowtail catfish, according to Wikipedia.

Oceana praises the EU’s move to introduce mandatory labeling and more stringent reporting requirements, saying this has cut mislabeling from 23% there in 2011 to 8% in 2015. “Catch documentation, traceability and consumer labeling is feasible and effective at combating seafood fraud,” the report says.

Fish mislabeling is a serious problem but surely not insurmountable. For example, blockchain technology could help with traceability quite well, according to these recent Co.Exist stories. Read the report here.

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[Cover Photo: ogal/iStock]