Oceana released a new study that reveals mislabeling of one of America’s favorite fish—salmon. Oceana collected 82 salmon samples from restaurants and grocery stores and found that 43 percent were mislabeled. DNA testing confirmed that most of the mislabeling [69 percent] consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild-caught product.
“Americans might love salmon, but as our study reveals, they may be falling victim to a bait and switch,” says Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. “When consumers opt for wild-caught U.S. salmon, they don’t expect to get a farmed or lower-value product of questionable origins. This type of seafood fraud can have serious ecological and economic consequences. Not only are consumers getting ripped off, but responsible U.S. fishermen are being cheated when fraudulent products lower the price for their hard-won catch.”
Oceana found mislabeled salmon everywhere it tested, including 48 percent of the samples in Virginia [includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, Williamsburg, Richmond, and Fredericksburg], 45 percent in Washington, D.C., 38 percent in Chicago, IL, and 37 percent in New York City. Salmon samples were considered to be mislabeled if they were described as being “wild,” “Alaskan” or “Pacific,” but DNA testing revealed them to be farmed Atlantic salmon; or the samples were labeled as a specific type of salmon, like “Chinook,” but testing revealed them to be different species [in most cases lower-value fish].
“While U.S. fishermen catch enough salmon to satisfy 80 percent of our domestic demand, 70 percent of that catch is then exported instead of going directly to American grocery stores and restaurants,” says Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “It’s anyone’s guess how much of our wild domestic salmon makes its way back to the U.S. after being processed abroad. Without traceability, it is nearly impossible to follow the fish from the farm or fishing boat to the dinner plate. What we end up eating is mostly cheaper, imported farmed salmon, sometimes masquerading as U.S. wild-caught fish.”
Oceana’s salmon samples were collected during the winter of 2013-2014, when wild salmon were out of season. This mislabeling rate [43 percent] differed greatly from Oceana’s nationwide survey in 2013, which found low rates [7 percent] of mislabeled salmon collected primarily in grocery stores at the peak of the 2012 commercial salmon fishing season, when wild salmon was plentiful in the market.
When looking at all of Oceana’s salmon data combined [466 samples in total], the following conclusions were made:
Diners were five times more likely to be misled in restaurants than grocery stores [38 percent vs. 7 percent].
Consumers are less likely to be misled in large grocery store chains that are required to give additional information about seafood.
Salmon purchased out of season from all retail types was three times more likely to be mislabeled than salmon purchased during the commercial fishing season [23 percent vs. 8 percent, respectively].
Last year, the White House established the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud.
“The federal government should provide consumers with assurances that the seafood they purchase is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled,” Lowell says. “Traceability needs to be required for all seafood to ensure important information about which species it is, whether it was farmed or wild caught, and how and where it was caught follows all seafood from boat [or farm] to plate. Providing consumers with more information about their seafood allows them to make more informed decisions, whether it is for health, economic or environmental reasons.”