Frequently Asked Questions

Seafood FrauD

What is seafood fraud?
Seafood fraud is essentially economic fraud, driven by economic motives that can occur at multiple points along the seafood supply chain. Seafood fraud occurs in a variety of ways, including mislabeling or other forms of deceptive marketing of seafood products with respect to the quality, quantity, origin, or species (i.e. species substitution).

What is the most common form of seafood fraud?

Less known, but far more common, is the practice known as “short-weighting.” Short-weighting occurs when processors misrepresent the weight of a seafood product through practices such as overglazing, soaking, and breading. Processors will add a layer of ice or a preservative to keep a seafood product fresh, a normal and legal practice. However, when a processor uses excess ice (overglazing) or additives (soaking) and includes their weight with the net weight of the seafood, that’s fraud. Consumers should only pay for the weight of the seafood alone. Short-weighting basically charges consumers more for less seafood.
What is mislabeling and species substitution?
Less common but more well known in the headlines, is the practice of species substitution. Once a fish is skinned and filleted, it can be difficult to identify what species of fish it actually is. Although mislabeling the name of a species can simply be a retailer or chef utilizing a common but inaccurate name—some sellers take advantage of the difficulty in species identification and substitute a low-valued species by labeling as a more expensive species. For example, passing off a catfish as grouper. In response to reports that seafood in the United States has been mislabeled, the Food and Drug Administration began to conduct DNA testing on fish to determine the accuracy of the market names on their labels. FDA’s sampling and testing found that fish species are correctly labeled 85 percent of the time. Although these results demonstrate most seafood for sale is compliant with labeling laws, the 15 percent that is not undermines consumer confidence and the reputation of the U.S. seafood industry.
What about mislabeling in the global seafood trade?
Seafood is the most traded food commodity in the world. Unfortunately, the globalization and complexity of the seafood trade creates opportunities for fraud. Beyond the name of a species, sometimes the country of origin is mislabeled to avoid regulations and fees or illegally-caught seafood is introduced into the supply chain. These fraudulent activities can occur through:
• Transshipping—when seafood products are exported through different countries to avoid duties and tariffs
• At-sea transfers—when illegal fishing vessels transfer their catch to cargo vessels carrying legitimately caught seafood
• Falsifying trade documents

Mislabeling seafood and concealing illegally caught fish evades inspection fees, permits, and other business costs that affect the price of responsibly-caught seafood.
What is being done to address mislabeling and species substitution?
Through the establishment of the Presidential Task Force to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud and its Action Plan released in March 2015, the National Ocean Council Committee on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud is collectively working to implement the recommendations outlined in the Action Plan. Working in partnership with the seafood industry and conservation communities, the multi-agency effort is leverage its existing resources and expertise to address these issues throughout the complex seafood supply chain. To keep informed of the activities and public comment periods, bookmark www.iuufishing@noaa.gov.