top of page

Seafood Fraud - Labelling is both a solution and an illusion

Perhaps You have heard about water pumped into chicken breasts to make them heavier, counterfeiting of bee honey with sugar syrup - or dilution of milk…?
Food fraud has been around since the dawn of day, and is still today an unwanted part of our worldwide supply chain.
Photo by Ramille Soares

In fact, there is also a major black spot on the Seafood industry. In recent Years, it has become clear, how mislabelling of Seafood, among other swindle techniques, is a global problem. A problem which needs to be eliminated, since it affects both the individual consumer, as well as the health of the Oceans.

"Though, unfortunately this does not come easy. Seafood fraud is extremely difficult to tackle due to it´s many layers, creativity of methods, and once again the Oceans ambiguity joins in."

When we, as consumers, decide to buy a Monkfish, - we expect to return home and prepare a monkfish for supper. However, the monkfish might turn out to be a poisonous Pufferfish, if a DNA based test was made.

Resent investigations, made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the non-profit Organization Oceana, proves that approximately one third of all fish and Seafood products worldwide are mislabelled.

Photo by Oziel Gomez Il Nzcmcnwc

Though it varies a lot from country to country how severe the mislabelling is. Lets take Europe as an example.

A recent study in Spain done by using DNA barcoding, proved that about 50 % of the food service establishments sold mislabelled Seafood. The “Dusky Grouper” and “Tope Shark” showed the highest mislabelling percentages, ranging from 86% to 100 %.

The study also found that one of the primary difficulties was the international Seafood supply chain. Imported species from Asia, South America and South Africa were substituting local species, since the market value for imported species were lower, and could be labelled and sold under false comprehension, for the higher market value of local species.

But one of Spain´s neighboring countries - France, tells a different labelling tale. France is the largest Seafood consuming country in the EU, and a study dating back to 2015, proves that accurate labelling of fish, is in fact possible.

Photo by Sas Kia

The study analyzed a marked-wide dataset, - collected samples from fishmonger shops, supermarkets and restaurants - both fresh and frozen fish, prepared meals and fish fillets.

Their overall substitution rate was as low as 3.7%. They detected no mislabelling among the frozen fillets or in the industrially prepared meals - only in fishmonger shops and restaurants.

Despite a very small samle of Bluefin Tuna (only 6 samles) a chocking 5 out of 6 Bluefin Tuna samles, turned out to be substitutions. Species with a lower market value.

“The comparison of these two neighboring countries within the EU, proves that mislabelling varies enormously depending on the country.”

In a campaign run by Oceana back in 2015 called “One name, One fish” the complexity of mislead fish names was pointed out. Another part of the labelling issue.

In an example they grant, they explain how a critically endangered Warsaw Grouper caught in Panama, can be sold legally un the U.S. - simply by the name “Grouper”.

This lack of differing between species is really an issue, since fish has wide ranges in sustainability within the “fish order”.

The order of the grouper consists of 159 different species of Groupers in the family Epinephelidae, - spread out worldwide and varying from critically endangered to threatened and vulnerable.

Oceana´s suggestment was to make species-specific names in latin, - since this would be universally recognized regardless of language, and could then help the consumer to identify the specific specie before placing the fish on the dinner table.

In the U.S. aproximiadly 1.700 different species of Seafood from all over the world is available for sale.

And as a conscious consumer, one might be familiar with the fact that some fish are more sustainable to eat than others, -

but keeping up and researching a range of 1.700 species, is an unrealistic requirement of the consumer.

Despite the fact that google is invented and research might only be one tap away.

But in the mist of grocery shopping, with a job and a family, - that extra time-consuming consciousness is a requirement that many people might choose to skip.

Photo by Zeshalyn Capindo

Mislabelling is as mentioned also a huge treat to the health of the worlds Oceans.

A new report by Greenpeace, “30x30 A Blueprint for Ocean Protection. How we can protect 30% of our Oceans by 2030”, states that 93% of the worlds fish populations are fully fished or overfished, and more than a third at unsustainable levels, - which is a fact that is widely recognised.

"And when mislabelling fish, the Seafoods traceability from boat to plate is also critically diminished."

These are but a few eksampels on why mislabelling of Seafood is critical the health of the Oceans.

Simply put, - Seafood fraud makes it impossible for the conscious consumer to contribute to a more sustainable future for the Oceans.

If a consumer chooses a fish, that is labelled as a specie of fish, that is possible to fish sustainably, but is mislead and instead served a fish that turnes out to be a vulnerable or endangered specie, it becomes very difficult to do the “right thing”.

Seafood fraud is an issue that needs top-down solving, since the consumer cant possibly help push in the right direction.

But if the Labelling is accurate, - as it turned out to be in France, - labelling is clearly a great way to help the conscious consumer choose Seafood on an informed basis, since researching the fish, shrimp etc., from boat to shop, - before purchasing, might seem insurmountable for the individual consumer.

Guides are necessary. And Labelling can serve as a solution. But, obviously, the labelling needs to be accurate in order to work.

In the U.S., approx. 84% of the Seafood consumed is imported, and approx. 2% is inspected by the government for fraud.

There is a long way to go. But having France as an example, proving it possible to function in a Society with correct labeling, gives hope that if a greater effort is made worldwide, Seafood Fraud could be eliminated.

Links :

Overviews :

U.S. Imported / Investigated for fraud :

Spain mislabelling study :

“Fish mislabelling in France: Substitution rates and retail types”

“Fish Product Mislabelling: Failings of Traceability in the Production Chain and Implications for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing”

Eksamples on mislabelling :

One Name, One fish :

Casting a wider net (U.S.):

Another mislabelling study in Greece :

Mislabelling in Argentina :

Great articles on Seafood fraud :

Greenpeace 30x30 :


bottom of page