Seafood fraud: Behind the scales - Oceana Canada
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November 4, 2019

Seafood fraud: Behind the scales

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BY: Oceana

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant, Washington, DC


Op-ed by Tracy Spiridakos


Tracy Spiridakos currently stars as “Det. Hailey Upton” on the NBC hit show CHICAGO P.D.

Did you know that seafood fraud is even a thing? I didn’t. Did you know it’s happening in Canada and the U.S. and across many other countries right now? Again, I didn’t. But, the truth is, seafood fraud is a prevalent and widespread problem.

Oceana Canada tested more than 470 seafood samples from restaurants and retailers across six different cities and the results revealed that 47 per cent were mislabeled. 47 per cent!

So, what is seafood fraud and how does it affect you? Seafood fraud is the mislabelling of fish — including where it is labelled as one fish — on menus or packaging— when it’s really another species of fish entirely. This practice can mislead consumers into buying a cheap or more readily available fish at a premium price, when that type of fish could be bought for less. It also hurts honest fishers and vendors who accurately label and price their seafood Studies have shown time and time again that you’re not buying what you think you are. For example, recent testing by Oceana Canada found fish labelled as haddock and pollock masking as cod, white tuna or butterfish was actually escolar (a fish banned in Japan, South Korea and Italy because of its health risks) and 100 per cent of the red snapper samples tested were various other species.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for regulating what is being sold to Canadians, yet they refuse to address this problem. Why is this such a big deal?

Seafood fraud is associated with serious health risks. For starters, allergies. Seafood is one of the most common food allergens in Canada. People can be allergic to a specific species of fish and not necessarily all fish. One of my closest friends went into anaphylactic shock after being told she was eating a type of fish that was safe for her to consume, but really wasn’t. When her tongue started to swell, she realized she had actually consumed a fish she was allergic to and had to be rushed to the hospital. Yes, she is okay now, but you can understand how seafood mislabeling is a life-threatening problem to people who have allergies. 

Say you don’t have allergies, but you consume what you believe to be white tuna or butterfish when it’s actually escolar. Well, escolar is called “the laxative of the sea”, causing diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Or Japanese amberjack parading as yellowtail… Japanese amberjack has a high risk of ciguatera, a toxin that can cause long-term neurological symptoms which are often misdiagnosed, in part due to CFIA’s lack of regulation around the species. Oceana Canada found that 18 samples of “yellowtail” were in fact Japanese amberjack.

Lastly, let’s say neither of the above impact you… you have an iron stomach, no allergies and you aren’t too concerned with what you are or aren’t eating. Then what about how much you’re spending? Doesn’t it infuriate you that you’re paying for something that isn’t what you think it is? After all, haddock is much cheaper than halibut. The price point differences are very steep as Oceana Canada’s report notes the price breakdown, with haddock at $39.88/kg and halibut at $74.77/kg.

So, what do we do about it? Well, step one is simply being aware of seafood fraud and taking the time to learn more. Go to Oceana Canada’s website and read the national report here, and for any readers outside of Canada, the organization has updates on various countries around the world on its international website. Step two is signing the petition, joining the growing list of people who are fighting to get legislation around seafood fraud changed.

Politicians often ask how much public support there is for a specific bill, so petitions are a great way to bring the issue to the spotlight and show policy makers that we’re paying attention. Your signature will serve as proof to policy makers as to how many people support this bill, and what needs to change in legislation to protect its citizens and our oceans.


Tracy Spiridakos currently stars as “Det. Hailey Upton” on the NBC hit show CHICAGO P.D.
She found success early on television series such as SUPERNATURAL and BEING HUMAN, but her breakout role was playing the lead role of “Charlie Matheson” on JJ Abrams’ REVOLUTION on NBC. Since then she has shown her comedic side in Showtime’s EPISODES with Matt LeBlanc, as a femme fatale on A&E’s BATES MOTEL and as the mysterious ex-girlfriend of Lucas Till’s MACGYVER.
Spiridakos was born in Canada and spent a portion of her childhood in her native Greece. She now lives in Chicago with her beloved Rottweiler, Nala. Spiridakos is passionate about travel, science, martial arts and video games.