Revealed: seafood fraud happening on a vast global scale | Environment


A Guardian Seascape evaluation of 44 current research of greater than 9,000 seafood samples from eating places, fishmongers and supermarkets in additional than 30 international locations discovered that 36% have been mislabelled, exposing seafood fraud on a vast global scale.

Lots of the research used comparatively new DNA evaluation strategies. In a single comparability of gross sales of fish labelled “snapper” by fishmongers, supermarkets and eating places in Canada, the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, researchers discovered mislabelling in about 40% of fish examined. The UK and Canada had the best charges of mislabelling in that examine, at 55%, adopted by the US at 38%.

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Typically the fish have been labelled as totally different species in the identical household. In Germany, for instance, 48% of tested samples purporting to be king scallops have been in actual fact the much less coveted Japanese scallop. Of 130 shark fillets purchased from Italian fish markets and fishmongers, researchers discovered a 45% mislabelling rate, with cheaper and unpopular species of shark standing in for these most prized by Italian customers.

Different substitutes have been of endangered or weak species. In a single 2018 study, almost 70% of samples from throughout the UK offered as snapper have been a totally different fish, from an astounding 38 totally different species, together with many reef‐dwelling species which might be most likely threatened by habitat degradation and overfishing.

Nonetheless different samples proved to be not completely of aquatic species, with prawn balls offered in Singapore steadily discovered to contain pork and never a hint of prawn.

New York fish wholesaler

Inside a New York wholesaler. Fish laundering prices billions a yr {Photograph}: Mike Segar/Reuters

Fish fraud has lengthy been a identified drawback worldwide. As a result of seafood is among the many most internationally traded meals commodities, typically by way of complex and opaque supply chains, it’s extremely weak to mislabelling. A lot of the global catch is transported from fishing boats to very large transshipment vessels for processing, the place mislabelling is comparatively straightforward and worthwhile to hold out.

There are “so many alternatives alongside the seafood provide chain” to falsely label low-value fish as high-value species, or farmed fish as wild, says Beth Lowell, deputy vice-president for US campaigns at Oceana, a global organisation centered on oceans. Research after examine has discovered mislabelling is widespread all over the place, says Lowell.

Nevertheless, the research in query generally goal species identified to be problematic, that means it’s inaccurate to conclude that 36% of all global seafood is essentially mislabelled. The research additionally use totally different methodologies and samples. Nor are fish all the time intentionally mislabelled – though the large majority of substitutions concerned lower-priced fish changing higher-priced ones, indicating fraud slightly than carelessness.


Scallops are sometimes mislabelled to draw a increased value. {Photograph}: MementoImage/Getty Photos/iStockphoto

The issue seems to be rife in eating places. One examine, representing the primary large-scale try to look at mislabelling in European restaurants, concerned greater than 100 scientists who secretly collected seafood samples ordered from 180 eating places throughout 23 international locations. They despatched 283 samples, together with the menu description, date, value, restaurant identify and tackle, to a lab. The DNA in every pattern was analysed to establish the species, after which in contrast with the names on the menu. One out of three eating places had offered mislabelled seafood.

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The best restaurant mislabelling charges – starting from 40% to 50% – have been in Spain, Iceland, Finland and Germany. Fish corresponding to dusky grouper (“mero”) and butterfish have been among the many species most steadily mislabelled, whereas for pike perch, sole, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, there was a 50% probability clients didn’t get what they’d ordered.

Typically fish are substituted with related species – one kind of tuna for one more, for instance. Usually, nonetheless, the substitute is a wholly totally different species.

A quite common stand-in is little identified and cheap shark catfish, or pangasius. This group of fish is broadly farmed in Vietnam and Cambodia, and has a related style and texture to different whitefish, corresponding to cod, sole and haddock.

Fish market in Catania, Sicily

Fish market in Catania, Sicily. Shark fillets are sometimes handed off as a costlier merchandise. {Photograph}: EyesWideOpen/EyesWideOpen/Getty Photos

Different substitutions are extra unsettling. For instance, combined seafood merchandise corresponding to prawn balls purchased in Singapore markets recorded a mislabelling rate of 38.5%. The prawn balls repeatedly contained pig DNA, researchers discovered.

And in China, 153 roasted fish fillet merchandise from 30 industrial manufacturers purchased at native markets have been examined to disclose “an alarming misrepresentation rate of at the very least 58%”, together with some substitutions from the lethal pufferfish household.


Substituted fish can pose well being dangers. One frequent substitute for some forms of tuna is escolar, a hard-to-digest oilfish. Others have unique parasites which will threaten well being. Nonetheless others are much less nutritious: when tilapia is a stand-in for crimson snapper, individuals are consuming a fish with decrease ranges of vitamins, together with decrease omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Oceana, which has carried out almost 20 investigations of its personal into mislabelling, additionally did a global review in 2016 of 200 research from 55 international locations, which discovered that on common one in 5 fish sampled from fishmongers, supermarkets and eating places have been mislabelled.

The state of affairs doesn’t look like enhancing. In 2019, Oceana discovered 47% of the samples it examined from meals retailers and eating places in six Canadian cities have been mislabelled.

A chemist inspects a fish to identify its species at a laboratory in Marseille, France.

Seafood is among the many most internationally traded meals commodities worldwide, making it extremely weak to mislabelling. {Photograph}: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty

There’s appreciable financial incentive to promote low-value fish instead of extra fashionable and costly species – and much more cash to be made “laundering” illegally caught fish, says Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist on the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries on the College of British Columbia.

Sumaila calculated in a 2020 study that between 8m and 14m tonnes of fish are caught illegally yearly. “That’s like 15 to twenty million cows being stolen yearly,” when it comes to weight, he mentioned.

“Fish laundering” is commonly linked to unlawful, unreported and unregulated (IUU) catches by giant “distant” fleets, during which foreign-flagged vessels function off the coasts of Africa, Asia and South America. Usually, the catches are processed on board giant transshipment vessels, the place mislabelling and mixing of authorized and unlawful fish is completed in relative secret. The chance of getting caught is low as a result of monitoring and transparency is weak alongside the seafood provide chain. “Folks could make a lot of cash doing this,” mentioned Sumaila.

Others lose out. Fish laundering leads to an financial lack of $26bn–$50bn (£19bn–£36bn) a yr, Sumaila’s examine concluded, as unlawful or fraudulently labelled fish undercuts the authorized business, making it troublesome for trustworthy gamers to compete. “It’s very corrosive,” he mentioned. “If not stopped, unlawful fishing simply grows.”