I Smell Something Fishy: Do You Really Know What’s in Your Dish?

Rose Boardman

How would you feel if that cod fishcake you’re considering having for dinner tonight was actually white hake or a vulnerable species? It turns out that this could be the case more than you'd like to think..

Photo: Ike Isaacsen @ikeisaacsen

Photo: Ike Isaacsen @ikeisaacsen

According to a recent report by Oceana, one in five of over 25,000 samples of seafood tested globally are mislabeled. The act of mislabeling is referred to as ‘Seafood fraud’ and is the selling of seafood products with a misleading label, description or promise.

Types of seafood fraud include disguising low value species as high value species, adding too much ice to seafood in order to increase the weight and shipping seafood products through different countries in order to avoid charges. Seafood fraud is more common than most consumers think and is particularly frequent in fish labeled as Atlantic bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod or European hake.

A recent study investigated whether or not Atlantic bluefin tuna products were correctly labeled under the European and national legislation. The scientists collected and analysed 545 tuna samples from fresh, frozen and canned products. Using DNA analysis the study found 37 of the products were mislabeled, making an overall mislabeling rate of 6.79%.

The consequences of seafood fraud not only cheats consumers financially but may also have a negative impact on the sustainability of fish. If items are mislabeled to appear more sustainable, vulnerable species are at risk, consumers are prevented from making eco-friendly choices and illegal fishing is made profitable.

It is extremely important to encourage fisheries to verify their sustainability through certification and create a traceable supply chain so that consumers know where their seafood came from.

Here are my top tips to help you become a fish fraud detective and find out what fish in your dish

Where to shop

Supermarket chains are less likely to sell mislabeled fish as restaurants or small stores. This is because big companies usually require higher levels of accountability. However, it’s definitely best to go directly to your local fisherman.

Become friends with your fishmonger

Get to know your fishmonger on a friendly basis and don’t be afraid to ask them lots of questions! If they can confidently provide you with information on where the fish came from this is a good sign.

Get technical

Some fish may come with an ID number which allows you to trace your order right back to the ocean. Companies including Trace Register allow consumers to type a unique ID into their website which tells the consumer key information including the species of fish, when the batch was caught and even a picture and bio of the boat captain.

Happy detective work and always, make sure whatever fish you purchase is sustainable and MSC certified.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, look out for more articles from Rose and follow her here @oceandreaming94 // @roseboardman4

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