November 10, 2014

Study Finds Shrimp Products Mislabeled or Misleading

Study found that shrimp products are greatly misrepresented as having originated somewhere they haven't been or as being  a species that they are not.In the only known study of its kind, Oceana, an international organization that focuses on ocean conservation, found that shrimp were greatly misrepresented and consumers are provided little information about their seafood purchases.

The study tested the DNA of 143 shrimp products from 111 grocery stores and found that 30 percent of the tested products were mislabeled (one species represented as another), misleading (species that were raised on farms that were labeled as “Gulf”), or species that were intermingled and represented as one kind.

Shrimp were misrepresented everywhere Oceana surveyed, from 43 percent in New York to 30 percent in Pensacola, Florida, and Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and 30 percent in Houston and Galveston, Texas.

Key findings

  • It was found that 35 percent of the 111 vendors involved in the study were selling misrepresented shrimp. Of the products sold in grocery stores, 41 percent were misrepresented, whereas 31 percent of the products sold at the 70 restaurants involved in the study were misleading.
  • Most of the 600 restaurant menus involved in the survey did not provide the diner with any information on the origin or type of shrimp in their dishes.
  • A banded coral “shrimp,” an aquarium pet that is not supposed to be eaten, was found with other unidentified shrimp in a bag of smaller frozen shrimp purchased in the Gulf.
  • No samples that were labeled “farmed” were incorrectly labeled. More than half of the samples that were labeled “shrimp” were caught in the wild.
  • In total, 30 percent of the more than 400 shrimp products surveyed at grocery stores did not have information on what country they came from. Nearly 30 percent did not have information on if they were wild-caught or farmed, and one in five products did not provide the shrimp’s origin or farm/wild-caught status.
  • The most commonly substituted species that was sold as “wild” or “Gulf” was farmed whiteleg shrimp.
  • Of the 20 shrimp species or categories collected, 40 percent were not previously known to be sold in the United States.

Governmental regulation

On June 17, 2014, the White House issued a press release noting the establishment of the Presidential Task Force for Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud. The task force has been created to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and the mislabeling of seafood products.  IUU has greatly undermined the economic and environmental sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries in the U.S. and globally.

To protect existing fisheries and fish stocks and promote growth in the industry, the task force will:

  • Strengthen coordination and implementation of authorities already in place.
  • Improve transparency and traceability of the seafood supply chain.
  • Assisting the agencies and offices that oversee the seafood supply chain by ensuring they are following the proper policies, laws and regulations involved in legally catching and labeling products.
  • Promote sustainably and legally caught, and properly labeled seafood.
  • Assisting foreign nations with combating IUU fishing and seafood fraud.
  • The presidential task force will report to the National Ocean Council.

?What now?
Oceana has also done a similar nationwide study on fish that found labeling was not up to the Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, told Business Wire that traceability should be the status quo, and to get to that point consumers need to ask questions about where and how seafood products were caught and support traceable seafood and honest labeling.

Consumers aren’t the only ones who can impact the fishing industry. Restaurant industry decision makers, even those who are attending culinary art schools, can choose to use and support only sustainably harvested, traceable seafood products, affecting the industry’s not-so-honest retailers by not using their products and services.