We know that Canada has a seafood fraud problem. In August 2018, Oceana Canada released a report which looked at five cities across the country and revealed a startling amount of fraud and mislabelling in our seafood supply chains.
Last week, Oceana Canada released a report on a sixth city, Montreal. In Canada’s second largest city, 61 per cent of the samples tested were mislabelled. These Montreal results, when combined with the investigations Oceana Canada conducted from 2017-2019, show that almost half of the samples tested across the country – 47 per cent of 472 samples – were mislabelled.
Canadians want to see change
After our 2018 national report made headlines across the country, Oceana Canada commissioned a public opinion poll that found that 75 per cent of Canadians are concerned about seafood fraud. It’s not surprising that people see this as an important issue – seafood fraud can cheat consumers, endanger our health and mask illegal fishing practices. This mislabelling can even hide human rights abuses, like modern slavery, in fishing supply chains.
That same opinion poll found that 78 per cent of Montrealers are concerned about buying species that are endangered, threatened or vulnerable to overfishing as a result of seafood fraud. No wonder – the latest findings in Montreal showed that 53 per cent of the mislabelled samples were a species at risk. Seafood fraud hurts ocean ecosystems; when an abundant species is disguised as a more vulnerable type of fish, it can give the impression that that a species is healthier than it actually is – perpetuating demand and pressure on a depleted population which has serious implications for the health of the ocean.
Other jurisdictions are combatting seafood fraud
When it comes to traceability, Canada is falling behind global standards. Seafood supply chains are longer, more complex, and more obscure than other products and this leaves room for fraud and mislabelling at every step along the way – either deliberately or through human error.
Seafood is a highly traded commodity. Eighty per cent of the seafood we eat here is imported, and likewise we export 85 per cent of seafood produced in Canada to other countries. In fact, because labelling and traceability standards are more stringent in some of the markets we export to, notably the European Union, some of our local producers are held to a much higher standard than industries in other countries which sell their products to Canadians.
Our opinion poll found that 81 per cent of Canadians think that seafood products sold in Canada should require the same information as our trading partners, but that’s currently just not the case. In Canada, labels only have to tell consumers the common name of a species and the last place the product was transformed. In comparison, a fish on a grocery store shelf in the EU has the scientific species name along with the place and method of catch – including whether a fish was farmed or wild caught. A fish caught in Canadian waters by Canadian fishers, however, could be sent to the United States for processing and end up back on Canadian shelves marked only with the common name of the species and “Product of the USA.” Our current standards not only keep information from consumers, they’re misleading.
It’s time for traceability
Oceana Canada’s nationwide study, including these new Montreal results, show that seafood fraud is an ongoing problem that has yet to be addressed. Traceability systems work and can help assure Canadians that the seafood they buy is safe, legally caught and honestly labelled.
Sign our petition calling on the federal government to act now to implement boat-to-plate traceability for seafood in Canada.