Seafood Fraud, Fish Populations, and Foodborne Illness
Oceana has just released a report that finds illegal fishing is linked to seafood fraud as uncovered in a recent study on fish mislabeling, along with foodborne illness. Oceana is sounding the alarm that illegal fishing is also leading to a massive loss of marine life species throughout the world.
Pirate fishing report
The report – titled “Stolen Seafood: The Impact of Pirate Fishing on Our Oceans” – documents that illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is threatening economies, consumers and marine species. The report estimates that illegal fishing comprises about 20 percent of the global marine catch.
According to the report, illegal fishing leads to the massive mislabeling of fish found in a study published a few months ago. This research – also funded by Oceana – found that over a third of fish sold in the U.S. is mislabeled.
The research gathered 1,215 samples from 21 states. The highest rates of mislabeling occurred with snapper and tuna – mislabeled 87% and 59% of the time respectively.
The research found that in Southern California, 52% of all fish is mislabeled, and in New York City, 39% of all fish is mislabeled.
The study also identified that 44% of all the retail outlets sampled are selling mislabeled fish.
Fish survival is threatened
Illegal fishing is also threatening the survival of many marine species.
For example, the shark find trade in Hong Kong indicates three or four times more sharks are killed than documented reporting shows.
The new Oceana report shows that Russian salmon, Chilean sea bass, Swordfish and many species of tuna are being caught at far higher levels considered sustainable and being reported by fisheries agencies. Meanwhile lobster, scallops and other bottom-feeders are being increasingly caught illegally.
As marine species are becoming increasingly threatened and fisheries limitations are put in place, illegal fishing is increasing.
Seafood safety at risk
Illegally caught fish has also been linked to increased food safety concerns, as the fish are being shipped in contaminated containers. Even cooked seafood is being contaminated during shipping.
For example, a recent cholera outbreak sickened U.S. seafood consumers with seafood illegally shipped from South America.
A large tuna outbreak in 2011 sickened at least 200 people.
A Hong Kong government agency recently issued a warning to consumers buying seafood of the risk of cholera among its seafood vendors – many of which are selling illegally fished seafood.
Illegal fishing is threatening valuable marine life species such as many rare species that dwell around the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Illustrating the devastation, in the summer of 2011, park rangers and navy personnel arrested 30 fishermen in a fishing boat containing 357 sharks.
An arrest off of Malaysia caught fishermen red-handed with 250 sea turtles on board – all dead but 20. This followed an arrest two days earlier of a vessel containing 72 dead turtles.
These illegal catches and many others around the world are threatening the marine ecosystem.
Oceana senior scientist Margot Stiles commented on the report. “Similar to the illegal ivory trade, pirate fishing is decimating the ocean’s most vulnerable and valuable wildlife – we are losing the elephants of the sea to poachers. By fishing illegally, including in national parks, and targeting endangered species with destructive gear, poachers provoke economic losses in the billions of dollars every year, undermining decades of conservation by more responsible fishermen.”
Stiles ML, Kagan A, Shaftel E, Lowell B. Stolen Seafood: The Impact of Pirate Fishing on Our Oceans. Oceana, 2013.
Warner K, Timme W, Lowell B, Hirschfield M. Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide. Oceana Feb. 2013.