SEAFOOD FRAUD: 33% Of Seafood Mislabeled

A report just released by Oceana - the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the worlds oceans has uncovered widespread seafood fraud across the United States. DNA testing has confirmed that one-third - or 33 percent - of the 1,215 fish samples collected by Oceana from 674 retail outlets in 21 states from 2010 to 2012 were mislabeled, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

Oceana found seafood fraud in every area it tested. Heres the mislabeling rates.

  • Southern California 52 percent

  • Austin and Houston, Texas 49 percent

  • Boston 48 percent

  • New York City 39 percent

  • Northern California 38 percent

  • South Florida 38 percent

  • Denver 36 percent

  • Kansas City 35 percent

  • Chicago 32 percent

  • Washington, D.C. 26 percent

  • Portland 21 percent

  • Seattle 18 percent


The study targeted fish with regional significance and those found to be frequently mislabeled in previous studies including cod, tuna, wild salmon and red snapper. Of these most commonly collected types the two that had the highest mislabeling rates were snapper 87 percent and tuna 59 percent. Forty-four percent of the retail outlets tested sold mislabeled fish. The worst level of mislabeling fell on sushi venues which had the worst mislabeling level 74 percent and then restaurants 38 percent and grocery stores 18 percent.

More Mislabeling Findings

The report also revealed:

  • Mislabeling was found in 27 of the 46 fish types tested.

  • 84 percent of the white tuna samples were actually escolar - a species that can cause serious digestive issues for some individuals who eat more than a few ounces.

  • Fish on the FDAs Do-Not-Eat list for sensitive groups because of their high mercury content - such as pregnant women and children - were sold to customers who had ordered safer fish - tilefish sold as red snapper and halibut in New York City and king mackerel sold as grouper in South Florida.

  • Between one-fifth to more than one-third of the halibut, grouper, cod and Chilean seabass samples were mislabeled.

  • Overfished and vulnerable species were substituted for more sustainable catch - Atlantic halibut sold as Pacific halibut and speckled hind sold as red grouper.

  • Only seven of the 120 red snapper samples collected nationwide were actually red snapper.

  • Cheaper farmed fish were substituted for wild fish - pangasius sold as grouper, sole, and cod, tilapia sold as red snapper and Atlantic farmed salmon sold as wild or king salmon.


While more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, less than one percent is inspected by the government for fraud. More than 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world are available in the U.S., making it extremely difficult for consumers to determine what they are eating.

Some of the fish substitutions we found are just disturbing, says Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. Apart from being cheated, many consumers are being denied the right to choose fish wisely based on health or conservations concerns.

Purchasing seafood has become the ultimate guessing game for U.S. consumers, adds Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. Whether you live in Florida or Kansas, no one is safe from seafood fraud. We need to track our seafood from boat to plate so that consumers can be more confident that the fish they purchase is safe, legal and honestly labeled.

Read the Oceana report

Learn more about fighting seafood fraud

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