About half of the seafood you buy is probably mislabelled, new findings suggest
TORONTO -- Turns out that cut of salmon, snapper or white tuna you love may be more mystery meat than you’d hope.
Approximately half of the seafood found in retailers and restaurants in major Canadian cities is mislabelled, according to a new, small-sample study in which a conservation group's researchers tested samples in restaurants and grocery stores across the country.
“Canada has a pervasive and unchecked seafood fraud problem, putting Canadians, honest fishers, ocean ecosystems and our seafood economy at risk,” said the authors behind Oceana Canada's latest investigation.
They found 43 of the 94 seafood samples taken from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto retailers were mislabelled. And although this study had a relatively small sample size, the rate was nearly identical to that of a past investigation of 472 samples taken by Oceana Canada between 2017 and 2019.
All 24 samples of butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna were mislabelled. Among the 13 samples labelled as snapper, seven were found to be tilapia, which is a much cheaper species.
And there were 10 instances where products labelled as butterfish or tuna were actually escolar, which is a cheaper species that has been known to cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
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According to the report, Montreal was the worst offender with 52 per cent of its seafood being mislabelled. Ottawa and Toronto came in second, with exactly half of all seafood samples being labelled as something other than what was advertised.
Halifax fared the best overall, with only 32 per cent of its seafood samples being mislabelled.
The report also highlights a discrepancy between the seafood found in restaurants and the grocery aisle. The study found mislabelling rate among retailers and grocery stores was 6.5 per cent, while the rate in restaurants was a whopping 65 per cent.
According to its website, Oceana Canada believes that Canada needs to do more to ensure consumers have a sustainable source of protein. Part of that includes pushing Canada to make good on a 2019 pledge to create a system whereby seafood is fully verified for what it is and how it was caught.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said that while fish is considered an at-risk food group because of how valuable certain species of fish can be, their own study from March found that 92 per cent of all fish was “satisfactorily labelled with proper common names.”
“The agency took appropriate enforcement actions on all unsatisfactory results,” the statement continued. “This included letters of non-compliance, product seizure and detention, relabelling to bring the product into compliance, and product disposals.”
The CFIA also implemented food traceability standards for international shipments, which allow for easier tracking of fish that may be misrepresented.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency works to protect consumers from food misrepresentation by conducting inspections, analyzing food samples, verifying that food labels and advertising materials comply with regulations, and conducting surveillance,” the statement added.
Sayara Thurston, Oceana Canada’s seafood fraud campaigner, said her group is calling for boat-to-plate traceability in Canada and is calling for a scheme requiring catch documentation for all domestic and imported seafood
"Buying fish shouldn't be a guessing game. Canadians deserve to have confidence in the seafood they eat," she said.
Although the United States and the European Union do have traceability systems for their seafood, Canada does not require that seafood include information proving its origin, legality or sustainability status.
"As other parts of the world strengthen existing traceability systems or develop new ones, Canada falls even further behind,” Thurston said. “The federal government committed to addressing this almost two years ago but has not made any real progress. The situation is clear, and given the lack of progress, unsurprising: seafood mislabeling is still rampant across Canada."
The latest findings was also released alongside market research, conducted by Abacus Data for Oceana Canada, which found 87 per cent of people were concerned by the recent findings, with a similar number concerned about illegal fishing in Canada.
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins