It’s 2016. Do you know where your children are your seafood comes from?
The menace of seafood fraud ― the secret substitution of cheaper seafood for a more expensive, desirable option ― is not new. Earlier this year, Inside Edition tested lobster dishes at restaurants across the United States, finding that over one-third of them contained bargain seafood imitations. A study last year showed that 43 percent of so-called “wild-caught” salmon was mislabeled. But the latest report by environmental advocacy group Oceana shows the truly rampant nature of seafood fraud worldwide.
Oceana conducted a comprehensive review of more than 200 published studies from 55 countries; all but one identified instances of seafood fraud. Of the 25,000 seafood samples tested worldwide, nearly one in five were found to be mislabeled.
It seems we were all too quick to judge Jessica Simpson for her legendary Chicken of the Sea gaffe.
Of course, fish supply chains are not actually subbing in chicken for tuna... or, at least we hope not. Oceana found that the most common substitutes across multiple studies were Asian catfish, hake and escolar. According to the review, Asian catfish has been sold as 18 different types of more expensive, high-quality fish.
What’s more, 58 percent of the documented lower-quality fish substitutes posed a health risk to diners. Escolar, one of the most common seafood substitutes, contains gempylotoxin, which can cause oily bowel discharge, vomiting and stomach cramps. A particularly frightening 2007 case saw pufferfish substituted for monkfish. Pufferfish contains tetrodotoxin, which is lethal in high doses, a Chicago woman who consumed it was sent to the hospital and required weeks of care.
The report’s authors point out that in addition to the possible health risks, seafood mislabeling cheats consumers and honest fishermen financially.
“Across the world, our review reveals that seafood mislabeling appears to be motivated primarily by economic gain through intentionally misleading buyers at every level of the seafood supply chain,” the report reads. “In case after case, cheaper or less desirable fish were mislabeled as more expensive varieties.”
And just in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse: In several cases, the substituted fish came from critically endangered or threatened species.
Oceana put together an interactive map documenting over 200 global seafood fraud cases. Cities in which 1-25 percent of the seafood samples were mislabeled are marked with a light pink fish, while serious cases in which 75-100 percent of the seafood was mislabeled are shaded dark red. Take a look below and see how close to home this fish fraud epidemic hits.