Seafood fraud was back in the headlines recently, and not for the reasons you might have hoped. A ground-breaking analysis by The Guardian examined 44 studies of more than 9,000 seafood samples in more than 30 countries. The conclusion? Seafood fraud is rampant around the world. The analysis found that 36 per cent of the samples in the studies were mislabelled. It’s a shocking figure but it isn’t surprising. Study after study has found seafood mislabelling is common around the world, including in Canada. The Guardian story shone a spotlight on this issue and highlighted a stark reality; that ending seafood fraud will require action on a global scale.
Seafood is at high-risk of fraud; it’s one of the most highly traded food commodities in the world, with longer and more complex supply chains than most other products at the grocery store or in a restaurant. Even a piece of Canadian-caught fish may have travelled halfway around the world to be processed before making its way back to you as a “local” product.
One consequence of these complex trading frameworks is that illegal products can easily make their way into supply chains. A British Columbia-based company was recently fined $160,000 for importing a critically endangered species of eel mixed in with a shipment that contained a different, more abundant species. The entire shipment had been processed in China and imported into Canada disguised as a legal shipment. This incident was flagged and prosecuted but, with the way things stand in Canada, consumers can’t be sure that other illegal products are not ending up in their grocery store.
Seafood fraud is complex. It could present itself as a farmed Atlantic salmon mislabelled as wild-caught Pacific salmon. It could be pet food made with fish that was caught in a legal fishery, but from a vessel using illegal, forced labour. Or it could be a cheap and abundant species like tilapia swapped in for a depleted but expensive species like red snapper.
Once a product takes on a new, legal identity, it’s impossible for an average consumer to know its true point of origin. Consumers are left in the dark about whether their seafood was caught using destructive fishing practices or by individuals trapped in modern slavery. The urgently needed solution to all of these problems is to put a boat-to-plate traceability system in place. This system would require information about where, when and how something was caught to follow the seafood all the way through the supply chain – ensuring that illegal products are kept out and allowing consumers to make informed choices about the products they buy.
Right now, Canada doesn’t require enough information when seafood enters our supply chain, so there is no way to know what is on our plates. Compared to other jurisdictions, like the European Union and the United States, our traceability system is woefully outdated and lax. A recent Oceana Canada report found that Canadians are spending up to $160 million a year on seafood caught through illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Yet we know that Canadians do not support these practices and want to see traceability put in place. In 2019, the Canadian government committed to doing just that, but as of yet, no timeline has been put in place for its implementation.
As the recent Guardian story highlighted, seafood fraud is everywhere. And, worryingly for consumers, most of the seafood consumed in Canada is imported, meaning that without traceability, we’re leaving Canadians at risk. Without demanding greater transparency throughout seafood supply chains, Canada is not doing its part to combat an issue that’s affecting the oceans, human rights, honest fishers and consumers around the world. Tell the Canadian government to stop seafood fraud, contact them and call for action through this petition.