“Bait & Switch” Get What You Pay For

June 07, 2011

Seafood fraud is a big business that’s bad for your business. Find out about the bait and switch here.

It’s more common than not for fish to be mislabeled as a different species, according to a new report by the nonprofit group Oceana titled “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health” (and your business, says The Lempert Report).  The report estimates that false labeling occurs in one quarter to over one-third of seafood in the US. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) National Seafood Inspection Laboratory tested various seafood over a nine year period and found 37 percent of fish and 13 percent of shellfish were mislabeled.  
Red snapper, wild salmon, grouper and Atlantic cod are most commonly mislabeled with some estimates placing red snapper fraud at 90 percent! Other common substitutions include yellowtail for mahi mahi, sea bass for halibut, white bass for Chilean sea bass, and pufferfish for monkfish.
It is pressing for a variety of reasons that seafood be labeled properly. According to the report, most seafood consumed in the US is imported, yet only two percent is currently inspected (GAO 2009). Seafood consumption is only becoming more and more popular as the health benefits are widely promoted. USDA suggests consumers dine on fish twice a week, and on top of that, consumers are learning different methods to cook seafood at home. Simultaneously, overfishing continues to plague the world’s oceans with more than three quarters of fish stocks worldwide fully or overexploited according to the FAO. All of these factors make the need for accurate labeling more urgent as some fish are more sustainable, healthful, etc than others - and food allergies can not be forgotten, fish and shellfish are one of the top eight most common allergens.  
Although, the FDA has been working on a DNA based method to identify seafood, this has only been used anecdotally and currently there is no seafood tracking database in place.
What can retailers do? Make sure you know your distributers. You have a serious obligation to know what you’re selling. Consumers expect to get what they pay for and will be disappointed with a retailer who provides them otherwise. Let your customers know that you are actively trying to prevent the “bait and switch” and are doing your best in the seafood department. Educate your staff so they can properly address the issue. Your customers will thank you for it.
View the entire report here.