Canada Still Lags Behind Other Countries in Tackling Seafood Fraud
Press Release Date: July 29, 2021
Oceana Canada’s latest DNA investigation reveals almost half of seafood samples were mislabelled; new polling shows Canadians are overwhelmingly concerned about Canada’s poorly regulated seafood supply chain
TORONTO, ON – The results of Oceana Canada’s latest seafood fraud investigation, released today and part of the most comprehensive, national, multi-year DNA testing study in Canada, reveals that 46 per cent of seafood samples tested in restaurants and grocery stores in four major Canadian cities were mislabelled. These results demonstrate yet again that Canada has a pervasive and unchecked seafood fraud problem, putting Canadians, honest fishers, ocean ecosystems and our seafood economy at risk.
Given widespread concern among Canadians and a lack of government progress in developing a seafood traceability system, Oceana Canada revisited some of the cities where it had previously sampled seafood. Forty-six per cent of the samples from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto were mislabelled (43 out of 94). This is just one percentage point off from the 47 per cent mislabelling rate found among 472 samples Oceana Canada tested between 2017 and 2019, and consistent with earlier studies in Canada and globally.
New market research also released today, conducted by Abacus Data for Oceana Canada, found that Canadians overwhelmingly support seafood traceability and want the government to act. Eighty-seven per cent are concerned about purchasing seafood that is mislabelled, up from 76 per cent in 2020, and 86 per cent are concerned about the government’s failure to address seafood mislabelling and illegal fishing in Canada.
The Canadian government committed to implementing a boat-to-plate seafood traceability system in 2019, which would bring Canada more in line with widely accepted global best practices; however, it has still not put forward a plan or timeline for doing so. Until this happens, Canadians have no guarantee that the seafood they eat is safe, legally caught or honestly labelled. Oceana Canada is calling on the government to act now on its commitment by developing a solution that is mandatory, comprehensive, harmonizes with our trading partners and meets global best practices.
“Buying fish shouldn’t be a guessing game. Canadians deserve to have confidence in the seafood they eat,” said Sayara Thurston, Seafood Fraud Campaigner. “As other parts of the world strengthen existing traceability systems or develop new ones, Canada falls even further behind. The federal government committed to addressing this almost two years ago but has not made any real progress. The situation is clear, and given the lack of progress, unsurprising: seafood mislabelling is still rampant across Canada.”
- Mislabelling rates by city: Montreal: 52 per cent, Ottawa: 50 per cent, Toronto: 50 per cent, Halifax: 32 per cent.
- Overall, there were 10 instances where products labelled as butterfish or tuna were escolar, which can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea and is banned from sale in several countries.
- One of the species of fish is not authorized to be sold in Canada.
- Among the 13 samples labelled snapper, seven were tilapia, which is a much cheaper species.
- All the samples of butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna were mislabelled (24 samples in total)
- The mislabelling rate among retailers was 6.5 per cent, lower than the 25 per cent combined average from Oceana Canada’s previous studies. The mislabelling rate among restaurants increased from 56 per cent to 65 per cent. Because of Canada’s opaque seafood supply chains, retailers and restaurants can themselves be victims of fraud, and even correctly labelled products could have been fished illegally or unknowingly sourced from forced labour
“Seafood is a high-risk product for food fraud; this includes mislabelling, but also illegal products making their way into supply chains,” said Thurston. “Seafood is one of the most highly traded food commodities in the world, and complex supply chains can mask illegal fishing, seafood fraud, human rights abuses and cost millions in tax revenue lost from the legitimate economy. Boat-to-plate traceability would protect Canadian consumers, honest fishers and vulnerable fish populations, and help Canada’s seafood industry maintain access to global markets – some of which already demand stronger traceability.”
The European Union and the United States have traceability schemes in place for their seafood and Japan is developing one now. Canada does not require that seafood include information proving its origin, legality or sustainability status. Experience from other countries shows that boat-to-plate traceability regulations work to stop fraud and protect both consumers and our oceans.
Oceana Canada’s 2020 report on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices found that Canada is also losing millions of dollars each year because of our murky seafood supply chains. Canadians are spending up to $160 million a year on seafood caught through illegal fishing and Canada is losing up to $93.8 million in tax revenue each year due to the illicit trade of seafood products.
To learn more about Oceana Canada’s campaign and to sign a petition calling on the government to address seafood traceability, visit oceana.ca/StopSeafoodFraud.