The thought of buying seafood only to find out that you were duped into paying a much higher price for a lower quality, mislabelled product, or worse, one that made you sick, isn’t a comforting notion. Continued stories of seafood fraud in Canada over the last several years have left many consumers asking what they can do to protect themselves against buying fraudulent seafood.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t be up to consumers to be experts in seafood labelling in order to avoid buying mislabelled fish. Canadians should be able to feel confident that the seafood they buy is safe, legally caught and honestly labelled. Until robust policy is put in place to ensure this becomes a reality, there are steps that people can take to lower their risk of becoming a victim of seafood fraud.
Putting some research into the seafood you buy isn’t just a good idea to make sure you’re getting what’s written on the label. Even if a product is what it says it is, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was fished sustainably or using practices that you support. Knowing where and how a species was likely caught can help you avoid products that could have been caught by indentured workers, or even by modern slaves. It can help ensure that you’re not buying fish caught with indiscriminate and damaging fishing practices, like bottom trawls or gill nets. It can also help if you want to avoid products from environmentally damaging aquaculture practices in countries with lax regulations. And with many of the world’s fisheries being poorly managed – including here in Canada, where only a quarter of wild fisheries are considered healthy – you can never have too much information about the impacts of choosing certain species.
Here are a few steps that you can take when buying seafood for you and your family:
Get informed about the fish you’re buying;
Ask questions at the seafood counter. Does the vendor know exactly what species of fish they’re selling, along with where, how, and when it was caught? If they can’t answer those questions confidently, it’s not a good sign. Vendors themselves are often victims of seafood fraud. So even if a grocery store or restaurant owner is trying to do the right thing, there may be a limit on how far back through the supply chain they can trace the products they’re buying.
Look into the price you should expect to be paying for seafood:
If you know how much you should be paying, it will be easier to spot something that’s too cheap to be believable. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is; and might be mislabelled seafood.
Buying a whole fish reduces the risk of fraud.
Even for experts, distinguishing between fillets of fish can be nearly impossible without DNA analysis. It’s much easier to identify a whole fish, and much harder for an unscrupulous actor to pawn it off as something else. While your recipe may not always call for a whole fish, making this choice when you can lowers your risk of being duped.
Try to eat in season.
Choosing a species of fish that’s likely to be abundant at specific times of year means it’s more likely that you’re getting the real thing. Often seafood fraud is motivated by high demand and low availability: if consumers want red snapper, but that’s hard to come by at that time of year, a cheaper, more readily available species like tilapia can be subbed in. Knowing if it’s normal to find a type of fish on the menu when you’re buying will help you make an informed choice.
If you can, try to buy locally or even from the fisher themselves...
through a community supported fishery program (CSF). CSFs are an increasingly popular business model that see local fishers sell directly to the consumer. The shorter the supply chain, the lower the chance of seafood fraud. If that isn’t an option, you can support smaller fish mongers or businesses that have put in place their own traceability systems or have been certified by voluntary programs.
With a little effort, it is possible to make a more informed choice about the seafood you buy. At the same time, Oceana Canada will continue campaigning for strong regulations to make sure seafood in Canada is traceable back to its point of origin, to ensure that Canada’s fisheries are rebuilt – and that Canada’s oceans are protected for generations to come.
Join us and call on the Canadian government to implement strong boat-to-plate traceability and #StopSeafoodFraud.