From Bait to Plate

Seafood is good for you we are told.  And it is certainly true - seafood if full of goodness, like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D.  Seafood is not always what it appears to be though.  In 2010 Dana Miller and Stefano Mariani (University College Dublin) revealed that 25% of cod and haddock sold in Dublin, Ireland is mislabelled.  On testing samples of seafood collected from retail outlets in Canada, Robert Hanner, Associate Director for the Canadian Barcode of Life Network found 41% were mislabelled.  In the USA, Oceana found that 33% of 1,215 samples collected across 21 states were mislabelled. 

Some mislabelling fails to identify a seafood item to species level, such as just reporting ‘salmon’ and not what species of salmon.  Sometimes mislabelling is much more sinister, claiming something is an entirely different species, or that the species was taken from a healthy population when in reality it was taken from another, much more vulnerable one.

The problems associated with seafood mislabelling go beyond swindling consumers.  First there are the health risks to consumers.  For those with allergies to specific fish species, or pregnant women who are told to avoid certain fish, mislabelling can put them (and their unborn child) at risk.  In 2007 two people from Chicago USA suffered tetrodotoxin poisoning when they consumed home-cooked puffer fish which they purchased as monkfish.  Then there is the financial costs.  Hong Chang Corporation, the supplier of the mislabelled monkfish, denied any wrong doing, claiming that the fish they imported and sold on was to their knowledge monkfish.  Never-the-less they undertook a voluntary recall of monkfish they distributed in three states.

Back in 2009, Imperial College London’s David Agnew, a researcher in population dynamics and management of marine fisheries, estimated that at a global scale illegal and unreported fishing accounts for somewhere between 11 and 26 million tonnes or seafood extracted from the ocean each year annually.  This illegal catch does not just end up in countries where enforcement may be lax.  In2011 Pramod Ganapathiraju, a PhD candidate at University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre, estimated that 20 - 32% of wild caught seafood imported into America was illegal.  With a value between U$1.3 and U$2.1 billion, the impact to legitimate businesses is not small.  Furthermore, without knowing just from where, how much, and what is being taken from the oceans, it is difficult to implement effective management that reduces our impact to ocean biodiversity, and ensure the long-term sustainability of fisheries.  IUU fishing occurs because it is profitable, and it is profitable because there are markets for their products to move through.  They can move through markets because traceability of seafood, from ‘bait to plate’ is largely lacking.  Ensuring transparency and traceability in fisheries is very much needed, but not something easily solved...

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Tawau Seafood. Credit kianboon/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)