Thirty per cent of the mislabelled samples that Oceana Canada found were endangered, threatened or vulnerable species (Figure 4). Eating these fish puts further stress on their stocks. In the case of another 38 per cent of samples, the status of the fish isn’t clear. That’s because the relevant assessment body — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) or the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) — either hasn’t made a decision yet or doesn’t have enough information to do so.
When a cheaper, more abundant fish is mislabelled as a more expensive, less-abundant fish, it can give consumers a perception that the stocks are healthier than they actually are. For example, the IUCN has listed red snapper as a vulnerable species. The current investigation found 29 examples of “red snapper” listed on menus, making it easy to believe the species is healthy and abundant. However, when those samples were tested, none of them turned out to be actual red snapper.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing operates outside of international and domestic rules and laws. It can include fishing in closed areas, fishing during prohibited times, using illegal gear or catching prohibited species. Global estimates suggest a minimum of 20 percent of seafood worldwide is either caught illegally or unreported,12 with an estimated value of $23 billion US annually.13,14
Seafood fraud allows illegally caught fish to enter the market by giving it a new “legal” identity.15 This undermines efforts to manage fisheries responsibly, prevent overfishing, deter destructive fishing practices and protect at-risk areas and animals. On top of that, illegal fishing is often tied to human rights violations, including modern slavery and child labour.16