Seafood fraud: Is it a problem?

Chefs and restaurant owners know the value of maintaining an exceptional reputation for quality. Whether its service, ambiance or – particularly – the food being served, exceeding guest expectations is critical to success.

Growing concerns about serving seafood that protects our oceans and lakes, our wallets and our health is an issue that is high on the culinary – and consumer - radar. Yet as more seafood is imported into the United States, the risk of fraud has made it increasingly difficult for restaurants and wholesalers to make wise decisions.

Despite growing interest about where seafood comes from and if, in fact, it even is the species it’s said to be, the industry is given little or no information about the fish being purchased. You rely on your suppliers to provide high quality, safe, legal and accurately labeled seafood. Unfortunately, knowingly or unknowingly, that’s not always enough. 

Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, recently found that one-third of U.S. seafood samples collected were mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Popular species like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, were frequently discovered to be fish that were less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.  

The issue is well documented – and generating action. More than 450 chefs, restaurant owners and culinary leaders, representing nearly 50 states asked Congress to pass the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act. The letter, signed by top chefs like José Andrés, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and Anthony Bourdain, called for mandated seafood traceability in the U.S. A similar appeal addressing seafood fraud came from 500 chefs and restaurant owners a year earlier.

What can you do?

Whether fish come from a lake, river or ocean, substitution can happen at any point in the supply chain. Given the visual similarity of such product, even the most experienced buyers and wholesalers frequently cannot detect fraud when they see it.

Restaurants now have the opportunity to be US SVS Species Certified, verifying the reliability of product purchasing and increasing consumer confidence. Certification includes not only seafood testing according to federally-accepted standards, but the ability to share your commitment to food safety through use of the US SVS Species Certified logo on your menus.

© U.S. Seafood Verification Service 2014.  All rights reserved.