Nearly half of the seafood sold in Canada is mislabelled, a new study from an oceans protection group suggests.
The Oceana Canada study, released Tuesday, looked at 400 seafood samples in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Halifax, and Ottawa, and found 44 per cent wasn’t what it appeared to be, and that it was nearly impossible to track from origin to plate.
The group took aim at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s new guidelines, which will come into effect next year, saying the regulations lack measures to deter “seafood fraud.”
“As a result, Canada lags well behind international best practices,” it said.
The group pointed to the United States’ new boat-to-border traceability for at-risk species as one way to track seafood from origin to plate in an attempt to tackle fraud.
It urged Canada to begin tracing all seafood from boat to plate, require catch documentation, improve verification measures and increase consumer information.
However, in an email to Black Press Media, the CFIA said its new regulations would “improve traceability requirements throughout the supply chain, including for seafood products.”
The agency said that it works with different levels of government, scientists and the seafood industry to ensure Canadians can trust that they’re getting the right fish.
“The CFIA undertakes inspections as well as compliance promotion activities and provides various tools, such as the CFIA fish list and industry labelling tool, to help companies verify that their food labels meet all the regulatory requirements,” the agency said.
“In cases of non-compliance, the CFIA takes appropriate action.”
Of the five cities studied by Oceana Canada, Vancouver did the best in labelling seafood correctly, with only 26 per cent mislabelled.
It was followed by Halifax with 38 per cent, Ottawa with 45 per cent, Toronto with 59 per cent and Victoria last on the list with 67 per cent.
The study focused on the nine species of seafood that are most commonly mislabelled.
None of the snapper, yellowtail and butterfish samples inspected were what they claimed to be. Snapper was typically labelled rockfish and tilapia, yellowtail was Japanese amberjack, and butterfish was escolar.
Other fish, such as cod and halibut, were somewhat better off, but even the best results saw 18 per cent of salmon mislabelled.
The study suggests 64 per cent of restaurants and retailers sold mislabelled fish.
The problem was worse in restaurants, where 52 per cent of the seafood was mislabelled, compared to 22 per cent at retailers.
Escolar, which is often sold in place of butterfish and white tuna, can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, the study said. It’s considered such a health risk that it’s banned in Japan, South Korea and Italy.
Selling farmed fish in place of wild fish, meanwhile, can expose consumers to concentrated chemicals in species like tilapia, salmon and Asian Catfish.
A dangerous toxin called ciguatera, found in Japanese amberjack often sold instead of yellowtail, can cause “long-term debilitating neurological symptoms” that are hard to treat unless you know their source.
Mislabelling seafood can also cost you a lot more, with cheap fish such as whiting trying pass as Atlantic cod and sold for 4.5 times its value.
If you order seabass, at $114 per kilogram, you could actually be eating catfish worth just $12 per kilogram.
Finally, not having a way to track seafood can lead to illegal fishing of endangered species. Studies estimate that 20 per cent of the fish caught worldwide were caught illegally.
“Seafood fraud allows illegally caught fish to enter the market by giving it a new ‘legal’ identity,” the report said. “This undermines efforts to manage fisheries responsibly, prevent overfishing, deter destructive fishing practices and protect at-risk areas and animals.