When seafood labeling takes a turn for the worse

by cehlert on November 25, 2016 - 9:33pm

An article from Food Safety News entitled: Oceana going overboard on fish fraud, according to seafood industry group, introduced a recent study conducted by Oceana, a global environmental group, that brought to light a recent fish fraud study. The fraud found was that 58% of samples from restaurants, stores and other retail outlets in over 55 countries were labeled as higher valued species of fish, when they were really lesser valued species of fish. What is worse is that in some cases the mislabeled fish posed health risks to consumers as well. The article explained that the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) believes this assertion of fraud to be misleading and exaggerated. According to Food Safety News, the two organizations usually have aligning opinions on matters of fish fraud, however this is not the case anymore. According to the NFI, Oceana searches for expanded regulation on the fishing industry, but the NFI thinks the issue has to do with enforcement rather than more regulation. Enforcement of fish fraud falls under the US FDA and the NFI believes that they are the ones who are responsible for not enforcing the regulations that already exist. The article explains that Oceana seeks for the government to expand the traceability requirements on all types of seafood and not just the few that are considered at risk. The article finished with two sentences explaining who founded Oceana (The Pew Charitable Trusts, Oak Foundation, Marisla Foundation (formerly Homeland Foundation) and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund), and that “NFI is a non-profit organization for education about seafood safety, sustainability and nutrition”.


These last two sentences suggest that the authors agree with the NFI, in needing more enforcement rather than regulations and traceability, possibly because the organizations that fund Oceana are large corporate entities interested in capitalistic ideals over sustainability. The fact that corporations fund Oceana is irrelevant to me in this article. Seafood labeling is a very important regulation and I agree that it should be enforced more stringently, however, mislabeling a seafood product is all-together a different story. This is why it is so important to have seafood-labeling regimes and traceability as part of a neoliberal management technique, which is also why Oceana being funded by corporations is irrelevant. If a corporation can get a consumer driven labeling program implemented faster and more efficiently than the government can enforce regulations, then why not? Fisheries are an open access resource and as such it is difficult to manage. Governments might not have the power nor the knowledge to implement well rounded labeling policies but if the government was to work with resource users (consumers, producers, fishermen etc.), combining the technical science with traditional and local knowledge and managing adaptively then mislabeled fish wouldn’t be as prevalent as it is. Consumers have demanded that they know where their fish come from, what kind of fish they are eating and how that fish was caught. I think this leaves ample opportunity for neoliberal and market based governance to help govern the actions of consumers, producers and fishermen. State led management can continue implementing the regulations, but it would not need to be as involved as the NFI is wanting it to be. Third party certification regimes would help avoid bias and there would be more involvement from the public in their demand for these products. If Oceana does in fact have faith in market based solutions then I can’t see why that is a problem, as nothing else has seemed to work thus far.