Do you care about the food system? Take part in our Annual Survey 2024

Take the survey
Article_Banner_SeafoodFraud.webp
Earth First

Seafood Fraud in The Supply Chain

It might be easy to recognise a chicken from a pigeon, but it’s not that easy when it comes to distinguishing haddock from cod fillet. And that’s one reason why fish is one of the products most commonly affected by food fraud, together with olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, wine and vanilla extract.

How often is our seafood mislabelled?

Several analyses and studies have proven that a huge percentage of fish is mislabelled.1 An analysis of ‘king scallops’ in a German market revealed that 48% of the tested samples revealed to be the less prestigious Japanese scallop.2 A similar analysis conducted on shark fillets from Italian fish markets and fishmongers found that 45% of the sharks were mislabelled, with cheaper species being sold as the preferred ones.3

A Guardian Seascape analysis of 44 studies, looking at more than 9000 seafood samples from various actors in the food chain, such as restaurants, fishmongers and supermarkets across 30 countries, found that 36% of seafood was mislabelled.4

A Guardian Seascape analysis found that 36% of seafood across 30 countries was mislabelled.
A Guardian Seascape analysis found that 36% of seafood across 30 countries was mislabelled.

Is mislabelling a widespread phenomenon?

Giving precise estimates is hard. Studies are often conducted on specific target species and use different samples and methodologies – and this makes it hard to draw general conclusions. However, the numbers from different studies consistently prove that seafood mislabelling is a widespread phenomenon.

The first large-scale attempt to study the rate of fish mislabelling in the mass catering sector (restaurants, canteens, schools, hospitals) across Europe was conducted in 2018 and found that 26% of the samples were mislabelled. The highest mislabelling rate was observed in Spain, Iceland, Finland and Germany, where close to half of the outlets offered mislabelled food.1

Why seafood mislabelling or fraud happens

There are various reasons for mislabelling. In some cases, it might just be that the long, complex, international supply chains make it hard to trace food, which increases the likelihood of mistakes - the longer the food chain, the higher the vulnerability. But oftentimes, the opaqueness of the system is intentionally used to one’s advantage. There is a huge economic incentive to pass a lower-value fish as a more popular one. The lack of traceability also makes it easy to get away with.4

Fraud often happens in the shape of fish laundering, which is the concealment of the illegal origins of seafood. For example, fish may have been caught where fishing – or fishing that particular endangered species – was banned. Fish laundering is mostly linked to unreported and unregulated catches by large fleets operating off the coasts of Africa, Asia and South America.

What can be done?

Combating fish fraud will be hard, but third-party verification, stronger regulation, and digital traceability methods will be fundamental in tackling it. On top of this, the WWF set up six principles that should be the foundation of a framework of traceability:5

  1. The essential information (who, what, when, how) regarding a caught fish should be available and displayed.

  2. Full chain traceability should be implemented to monitor each stage along the chain.

  3. Effective tracking of product transformation should provide information about where and how the product was transformed.

  4. Digital information and standardised data formats should be used to ensure proper tracking.

  5. Verification from the government or third parties should happen consistently and regularly.

  6. Transparency and public access to information should give everyone the tools to make conscious decisions.
Annual audience survey

Do you careabout thefood system?

Take part in our Annual Survey 2024

Take the survey

Related articles

Most viewed

Human Stories

The Indian Farmers Battling Climate Change With 10,000-year-old Emmer Wheat

Sanket Jain

Across India, farmers have been reporting major losses due to recurring climate disasters. But the…

Human Stories

Cashew Nuts: The Hidden Cost of Production

Molly Melvin

Alongside the dramatic rise in health-conscious and vegan diets, cashew nuts are fast becoming the…

Earth First

How Fig Trees Restore Forests and Biodiversity

Molly Melvin

Widespread reforestation efforts are a key way to mitigate climate change, curtail habitat loss and…

Earth First

Farming For Gender Equality | Agroecology in Practice

Emily Payne

Small-scale farming communities across the world are using agroecology to simultaneously tackle food…

Earth First

Extra Virgin Olive Oil | Real or Fake Olive Oil?

Dr Michelle Spence

Extra virgin olive oil is hailed for its health benefits and superior taste, but it’s also a…

Earth First

6 Things to Know About Compostable Plastic

Jane Alice Liu

Compostable plastic utensils seem to be popping up everywhere these days. From compostable forks,…

Earth First

Is Polyculture The Key To Food Security?

Rachel Bailleau

Growing a single crop over vast amounts of land has become the norm. But in the face of a…

Earth First

Mushroom Farming & Processing | Ask The Expert

Madhura Rao, Jan Klerken

We've been foraging, growing and eating mushrooms for thousands of years, but how has that changed…

Earth First

Where is Your Fish From?

Marie Lödige

Traceability is a recurring term when it comes to fish safety and fishery sustainability. But what…

Earth First

Plastic-Free Food Packaging: Where Do We Stand?

Madhura Rao

As an avid advocate for keeping groceries as plastic-free as possible, I have always wondered about…

Earth First

The Brazil Nut | How It’s Grown

Molly Melvin

At first glance, the Brazil nut seems little more than an oversized, overpriced nut you pass in the…

Earth First

No Dig’ Gardening: A Quiet Revolution

Sarah Wyndham Lewis

It has long been thought that soil must be physically dug to create a finer texture, amalgamate…

Keep updated with the latest news about your food with our newsletter

Follow Us