It’s no secret that food fraud is a major issue worldwide, affecting everything from olive oil to Kobe beef — and one of the biggest counterfeiting culprits is the global seafood market. A recent report conducted by seafood watchdog group Oceana found that one in five seafood samples tested worldwide were mislabeled, from restaurants selling endangered whale as fatty tuna to caviar that wasn’t caviar at all.
To reign in this sort of rampant deception, the Obama administration is implementing a program to help prevent illegal fishing and seafood fraud across the United States. The final rule announced yesterday directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to install a Seafood Import Monitoring Program that will track about 25 percent of imported seafood from the fishing boat where the originates until it reaches U.S. borders.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the monitoring program will focus on types of seafood that are prone to mislabeling or being illegally fished. In addition to helping ensure that American consumers get what they pay for, it could also help slow the tide on rampant overfishing that’s decimating certain species of fish.
In a statement following the White House’s announcement, Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell says, “For the first time ever, some imported seafood will now be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish, helping to level the playing field for American fishermen and reducing the risk facing U.S. consumers” — and it’s a big deal, since over 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported.
Compliance enforcement begins January 1, after which seafood importers who are caught mislabeling their products may have them seized or face legal action. Until then, try avoiding Red Lobster’s lobster bisque (there ain’t a trace of lobster in it) and, in general, all red snapper, as the real thing is only served in restaurants six percent of the time.