The Future of New England Seafood
Seafood fraud is bad news, but there are good (and delicious) ways to avoid it
Last week, Oceana released a report on seafood fraud, which occurs when seafood labeling is misleading or outright fraudulent, thus preventing consumers from knowing exactly where and how their fish was caught. The report found that seafood might be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish such as red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod, with consumers actually receiving less expensive or less desirable seafood as a result. Why does this matter? In addition to the fact that it means consumers are not getting what they paid for, seafood fraud undermines conservation goals in various ways. For example, when overfishedAn overfished population or stock is one that has been depleted so much that the yield to the fishery is compromised, possibly jeopardizing the future of the stock. The abundance of an overfished stock is too low to ensure safe reproduction and to support optimal levels of fishing. In the U.S., law dictates that a rebuilding plan is required for stocks that are deemed overfished. Populations usually rebuild, or grow, when fishing is reduced sufficiently. species are mislabeled as healthy ones, consumers may unwittingly contribute to stock depletion.
The New York Times ran an excellent article on seafood fraud last week that not only explains the dangers of the practice, but also describes a new technology to combat it: DNA bar coding, which looks at genetic sequences in the flesh of fish to determine exactly which species is getting sent to your plate. Currently, fish samples must be sent to a lab to undergo this type of genetic testing, but according to the Times, scientists predict that the technology will become much more widespread and even portable – inspectors will carry handheld detectors – within the next five to ten years.
In the meantime, if you’re concerned about the source of your fish and the integrity of its labeling, you might want to consider buying your seafood locally. Trace and Trust is a New England-based initiative, currently in its pilot phase, that allows chefs, consumers, and fishermen to locate, distribute, and purchase local, wild-caught seafood. Visitors to the Trace and Trust website can enter a zip code to find restaurants and retailers participating in the program nearby, and the search results even display what fish they are serving and when and where it was caught. The Trace and Trust Facebook page is also a great way to stay up to date about freshly-caught local seafood options in New England. Trace and Trust was recently featured on Boston Channel 5 news, and you can watch the segment here. This is a great example – one of many, of course – of innovative fishermen using technology to not only strengthen their businesses, but to help consumers make educated and sustainable choices as well.
We expect that seafood fraud will be in the news a lot over the next few weeks, so keep checking Talking Fish for the latest updates.