But those smart choices depend on reliable seafood labeling, and unfortunately what we buy isn’t always what’s described on the label. Seafood fraud is a growing problem in the U.S.—according to our partners at Oceana, about one-third of all seafood items purchased in the U.S. are mislabeled.
And that problem hits home here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. A report released by Oceana earlier this year found that 38 percent of crab cakes advertised as locally sourced Maryland blue crab were actually composed of imported meat.
Furthermore, nearly half of the species found in the crab cakes are those often fished unsustainably—the species that seafood guides tell you to avoid. Maryland blue crab, on the other hand, is generally considered a best choice or good alternative.
What it boils down to is a lack of transparency in the supply chain. Key information, like when, where and how seafood is caught, doesn’t always make it from the boat to the consumer. In fact, according to Oceana, much of the crabmeat destined for the U.S. arrives already mislabeled.
Seafood mislabeling is without a doubt a complex subject, but there are actions you can take to help combat seafood fraud:
- Contact your elected officials. Let them know you’re concerned about how improper seafood labeling impacts our families, economy and ocean.
- Eliminate some of the steps it takes for seafood to get from the boat to your plate. In Maryland, the True Blue program identifies restaurants that sell local sourced crabmeat. There are also Community Supported Fisheries popping up all over the country that help link consumers to local fishermen.
- Ask questions. As an informed consumer, you should feel empowered to ask questions of the restaurants and markets you patronize.
- Tell your friends. Knowledge is the first step on the path to empowerment and enacting change, so spread the word!