Oceana on Fish Fraud: Make New Laws, Don’t Just Enforce Ones We Have?

Oceana’s latest report on seafood fraud is hardly garnering the type of coverage its previous efforts have but that doesn’t mean it’s filled with any less misleading hyperbole. Let’s get to the facts and put some real perspective on the group’s handwringing.

Mislabeling is fraud and fraud is illegal, period. That’s why NFI members are all required to be members of the Better Seafood Board, the only seafood industry-led economic integrity effort. Our members are at the forefront of getting rid of fish fraud.

Any suggestion that Oceana’s study finds 20% of all seafood is mislabeled globally is incorrect. 20% of the seafood they looked at, which includes the most commonly mislabeled species, were mislabeled. You don’t go to the school library looking for truant kids, you go to the arcade. Oceana’s focus on the most often mislabeled species distorts its findings by design. It is a common technique that ironically perpetuates a fraud on the readers of these reports.

Oceana’s continued focus on expanded regulation illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to fish fraud and what works in policing it. The laws, rules and regulations we need are already on the books. This is an issue of enforcement. Whether it’s the City Attorney in San Diego going after menu mislabeling or the U.S. Attorney’s office in North Carolina securing felony mislabeling convictions, investigation and prosecution is the answer, not more laws.

Oceana’s approach is akin to recognizing drivers are running a stop sign and simply putting up another stop sign, rather than enforcing the law already conveyed by the first stop sign. Oceana would do much more in helping to get rid of seafood fraud if it focused on lobbying for greater enforcement rather than a misguided effort to expand regulatory bureaucracy.

The FDA is in charge of fighting fish fraud and its focus on the issue has grown steadily in the past few years. In fact, regulators recently revealed the results of a two year DNA investigation that found 85% of the fish they tested at wholesale was labeled correctly. This work has given them the ability to focus on areas and even species where there are demonstrable challenges. This project, known as Fish Seafood Compliance and Labeling Enforcement or Fish SCALE, was awarded the Department of Health and Human Services “HHS Innovates Award” for outstanding success. To suggest regulators are not focused on the issue and ways to best use resources to fight it is simply incorrect.

When Oceana started work in the fish fraud area its efforts were welcome. As its strayed further and further from a clear, discernable goal of stopping seafood mislabeling, its efforts have begun to evolve into a distraction for those actually doing the real work in this space.

Has Oceana lost its way? Has it lost sight of its original objective? With this latest report the question becomes, what is Oceana’s goal?


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