Oceana Canada released a new report on Wednesday that found 47 per cent of the more than 470 seafood samples they had taken from retailers and restaurants across the country were mislabelled.
The conservationist group said that Canada has a widespread fraudulent fish problem, and that enforcing strict traceability laws is needed.
“Fraudulent fish means any practice that misrepresents the fish that you buy,” said Executive Director of Oceana Canada Josh Laughren on CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday. “And that can be either mislabelling or putting incomplete information on the label, or more problematic, is when it’s a different species of fish than which is substituted and sold as something else.”
Laughren said the majority of fraudulent fish cases are substituting a cheaper fish than what the consumer thinks they are buying – such as misrepresenting farmed salmon as wild caught or labelling a cheap catfish as expensive tuna.
“It is really hard to tell” the fish apart, Laughren admits, “even though it’s my job.”
Laughren said the major driving factor with fraudulent fish is that “seafood is a highly traded global commodity with long supply chains.”
“A fish can be caught in Canada, be sent to China for processing, come back to the United States for branding and then end up back in Canada – because of the way our traceability rules or labelling rules work… the place of origin [listed] for that fish would be the United States because that was the last country that touched it,” Laughren said.
Concerns over fraudulent fish are numerous, Laughren said. Consumers will not be getting what they pay for, which is a “hit to your wallet,” and mislabeling fish is how illegal fishing gets “laundered into the market, which undercuts our responsible and law-abiding fishermen who actually deserve to get what they’re paid.”
The health concerns with swapping in cheaper fish are also abundant. Laughren gave the example of escolar, dubbed “the laxative of the sea,” being sold in sushi restaurants as white tuna, and amberjack substituted for yellowtail tuna, which can have a “naturally occurring toxin which causes really debilitating neurological symptoms.”
Oceana Canada is calling for the Canadian government to implement comprehensive traceability rules and regulations that would include information such as when and where the fish was caught, the species and scientific name of the fish, how it was caught – or farmed – and then following it through each step of the supply chain.
“In the end if we want good seafood we can trust, it requires good traceability,” Laughren said.