A REPORT from the marine conservation charity Oceana Canada has unveiled ‘alarming results’ of seafood fraud in the federal capital Ottawa.
Almost half of the samples tested – 45 out of 98 – were mislabelled while a third (33) were considered species substitution, since the name on the menu or label did not match the type of fish being sold.
A year ago, Oceana said it had found evidence of large scale fish fraud across the border in the United States, especially on the Pacific coast around California.
The report, titled Mystery Fish: Seafood Fraud in Canada and How to Stop It, says an increasing amount of seafood is being shipped to Canada from overseas, with estimates suggesting that up to 80 per cent of what is consumed may be imported.
This seafood follows a complex path from fishing vessel to plate, with a risk of fraud and mislabelling at each step along the way.
Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada, said: ‘Seafood fraud cheats Canadian consumers and hurts local, honest fishers as well as chefs and seafood companies looking to purchase sustainable seafood.
‘It causes health concerns and also masks global human rights abuses by creating a market for illegally caught fish.’
Food fraud is big business, according to Dr Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution at Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia.
‘Food fraud represents a $52 billion problem worldwide and is allegedly worth more than the heroin trade and firearms trafficking combined,’ he said.
Over the last decade, numerous studies have exposed seafood fraud around the world. Studies in Canada have found up to 41 per cent of the samples collected from grocery stores and restaurants were mislabelled. Until now, no such study had been conducted in Ottawa.
To better understand the extent of seafood fraud in the nation’s capital, Oceana Canada tested restaurants and grocery stores in Ottawa based on their popularity, including among politicians and decision makers, and their proximity to Parliament Hill, government offices and media headquarters.
- Seafood fraud and mislabelling were found in 14 of the 19 different types of fish targeted;
- Restaurants had the highest rates of seafood fraud and mislabelling, with 68 per cent of sushi vendor samples and 51 per cent of non-sushi restaurant samples mislabelled. Eighteen per cent of grocery store samples were mislabelled;
- Seafood fraud and mislabelling were found at 10 of 12 sushi vendors and 16 of 22 restaurants tested, including the most popular and prestigious restaurants and those known for serving sustainable seafood;
- Escolar, known as ‘the laxative of the sea’, can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, and was found as a common substitute for both white tuna and butterfish.
Oceana Canada is now calling on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to make combating seafood fraud a priority and to ensure all seafood sold is safe, legally caught and honestly labelled.