Are You a Victim of Seafood Fraud?

You would think that the iconic Chesapeake Bay blue crab would be, you know, from the Chesapeake Bay. Not always the case. Research from Oceana reveals that 38 percent of blue crab labeld as Chesapeake Bay were mislabled and had not been locally caught as advertised.
This kind of seafood fraud runs rampant in the fish and seafood industry, with serious reprocussions. This particular case shows that as a result of fraud, people may be eating species that they didn't order: Eight different species were found in crab cakes labeled as "blue crab," four of which are listed as species to avoid.
"Not even the prized Maryland crab cake is safe from seafood fraud," said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. "When diners purchase a Maryland crab cake, they don't expect to get an imported substitute. This type of fraud, species substitution, inflates the price for consumers, parades imported and sometimes illegally caught crab as local, prevents consumers from making sustainable seafood choices, and harms the livelihoods of local watermen and seafood businesses."
Fortunately, the U.S. is planning to take action against this kind of seafood fraud. The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State, recently announced its plan to implement changes to protect you and the economy from fraudulent seafood. 
"Illegal fishing and seafood fraud affect the American public and people around the world," State Department Undersecretary Cathy Novelli said. "The plan we are releasing puts us on course to tackle these complex global challenges, with a new traceability program at its heart. It also gives new urgency to our work towards the strongest possible international tools—including ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement, which will ensure illegal fish cannot reach the global market."
Actions in the plan fall under four categories: combatting IUU fishing and fraud at an international level; strengthening enforcement; identifying and eliminating fraud and IUU seafood sales by partnering with nongovernment groups; and adding additional traceability requirements by increasing available information. 
The Problem With IUU Fishing
Ted Danson, Oceana spokesperson and author of the likewise titled book,Oceana, says that illegal fishing accounts for 13 to 31 percent of the annual worldwide catch. "It's not unusual for catches to be intentionally mislabeled—caught by an illegal boat then packed in boxes bearing the stamp of a legitimate, legally licensed vessel. The catch then enters a nation's market, typically through a port where inspections are known to be lax."
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing operations make money off of unsustainable fishing practices, such as overfishing, catching young fish, using restricted gear, or fishing in forbidden spawning areas. They violate safety requirements like keeping navigation lights on to avoid detection and routinely use despicable labor practices, including human trafficking. Also, they economically hurt companies that do follow the rules—to the tune of as much as $23 billion annually, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
The Problem With Seafood Fraud
Seafood fraud includes mislabeling, deceiving consumers about the quality, origin, or species of fish; manipulating seafood to look better than it actually is; and adding water to make products weigh more. "Seafood fraud is remarkably easy to pull off," says Danson. "And unfortunately, it happens all the time. You'd hate to think they would do this, but there are restaurants that knowingly substitute a cheap fish for the expensive one on the menu and pocket the difference." Fraudulent fish sales are common with red snapper (swapped out for cheap tilapia), grouper (swapped out for Asian catfish), and lobster (swapped out for monkfish)—"as long as there's enough cream sauce to hide it in," Danson adds.
Another downside of fraud: It could be exposing you to higher levels of mercury
Task Force Action Recommendations
• By September 2015, the task force wants a strategy to be able to collect, share, and analyze information and resources to prevent IUU and fraudulently labeled seafood from entering the country.
• Work with Congress to implement legislation for the Port State Measures Agreement. In this agreement, port states will designate where foreign vessels may land, with regulation at each entry point on relevant fishing details and inspections. This will help keep IUU and fraudulent seafood out of the country.
• Work internationally to advance best practices for protecting sea commerce abroad and implementing controls.
• Make combatting IUU fishing and seafood fraud a diplomatic priority abroad.
• Determine how this traceability information can be shared with consumers.
• Standardize and clarify rules on identifying the species, common name, and origin of seafood and adjust tariff codes appropriately.
• Make federal and state enforcement operations, investigation, and prosecution of sale of IUU seafood a priority for 2015.
• Work internationally to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overfishing and IUU fishing by 2020, raise maritime domain awareness, and establish sustainably managed fisheries.
• By October 2015, identify the most at-risk seafood species of IUU fishing or fraud. The task force will apply the traceability system on this species first.
"The steps the United States has taken to be a leader in environmental stewardship are paying off," said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews. "However, our nation's fisheries remain threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud, which negatively affects our markets. The Task Force's new strategic plan will aggressively implement recommendations to guarantee that U.S. fishing fleets remain competitive in the global economy."