According to a recent study by Oceana, 33% of the seafood purchased in the United States is mislabeled. Without accurate seafood labeling, consumers can be led to believe that their seafood purchase is supporting local fisherman, when they may actually be supporting overfishing or habitat destruction.
This February, Delegate Eric Luedtke introduced the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act (House Bill 913) – a bill that would require restaurants and grocery stores to label seafood with the common name of fish/shellfish and prohibit intentional mislabeling. The National Aquarium has supported the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act and has provided testimony for the bill.
According to a comprehensive study by our partners over at Oceana, some seafood is intentionally mislabeled to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices, which directly impacts restaurant and market owners who then misrepresent their products to the consumer.
Important Information About Seafood Labeling in the US:
- Ninety-one percent of our seafood is imported from other countries, with a large portion of that product coming from Asia.
- Only 2 percent of seafood imported into the US is inspected and just .001 percent is inspected for fraud.
- Over 1,700 different species of seafood are available for sale in the US, including species found both domestically and internationally.
- The most commonly mislabeled fish types discussed in Oceana’s study were: snapper, tuna, cod, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.
- Nationwide, the mislabeling of seafood is most prevalent in California, New York City and Miami.
- Outside of some guidelines put forth by the Food and Drug Administration, there is no current federal legislation to combat seafood fraud (both intentional and unintentional).
- Some states, including our home state of Maryland, have put forth legislation to regulate these processes.
Why is seafood labeling important?
Citizens can have a tremendous and positive impact on the health of our bays and oceans and sustainability of our fisheries through their everyday consumer choices. The effectiveness of these choices is directly linked to the reliability of the information provided through the supply chain.
How can consumers tell if their seafood is from where it says it’s from?
Currently there are no requirements to help consumers identify how or where our seafood is raised or harvested. The only way to know for sure is to catch your own fish – or to buy directly from the fisherman at the dock.
How can everyday consumers purchase better seafood?
By getting informed. First, by understanding which seafood choices are not only good for our health but also good for the health of our rivers, bays and oceans; second by asking about the sources of our seafood when we visit a restaurant or supermarket.
Where can consumers purchase better seafood?
There are supermarkets and restaurants in our area that understand that a growing number of consumers are concerned about making informed decisions when purchasing seafood. Many of these offer detailed information at point of sale (i.e. where and how a fish is caught or raised). For example, if you are looking for Maryland crab, you can look for the Maryland True Blue logo – this helps identify a restaurant or market that primarily gets their crabmeat from local sources.
How does this affect our favorite local Maryland dishes like crab cakes?
The Maryland crab cake is a favorite seafood meal for locals and tourists alike. Only a small number of restaurants in Maryland reliably make their crab cakes from local crabmeat and the state does not require restaurants to identify the specific source of the meat. The crab in your Maryland crab cake can come from blue crabs caught in North Carolina and the Gulf of Mexico, or it could come from a different crab species imported from Asia.
What tools are available for consumers to make better choices?
There are several tools available for consumers to use to make better choices. One of the most popular is the Seafood Watch Program. The Program helps us sort through all of the information out there on a majority of the fish we find in our restaurants and supermarkets and delivers the information in the form of a small wallet card or smart phone app – and allows you or I to quickly see if the seafood choice you are about to make is healthy for you and the environment.
Another helpful tool is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certification Logo – a quick visual reference to making good seafood choices.
Locally, the True Blue Logo will help us identify locally-sourced crab meat.
To learn more, read our blog, written by our conservation expert, Laura Bankey.
Most of our interaction with fish and shellfish occurs in the marketplace, in the kitchen and in area restaurants. The more we can know about sources of our seafood, the better we will be equipped to make choices that support healthy aquatic ecosystems – from our local streams to the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic Ocean – and the local communities that depend upon those resources for their livelihoods.
People increasingly want to understand and make choices in support of economic and environmental sustainability. Without accurate information, consumer choice as a positive force in the market place is negated.
Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Dining Series
Seafood is sustainable when it is caught or farmed in a way that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations.
The National Aquarium's Fresh Thoughts sustainable seafood dining series not only offers a delicious dinner and a fun evening out, it's also a way to increase your understanding of sustainable seafood practices and to help you make informed choices.
Learn More About Fresh Thoughts
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