Mislabelled seafood may lead to more sustainable consumption
2016-11-10 17:39:09   copyfrom:    hits:

Fish labelled as red snapper in a fish market (Photo: Margaret Siple University of Washington)UNITED STATESThursday

Fish labelled as red snapper in a fish market. (Photo: Margaret Siple/University of Washington)


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Thursday, November 10, 2016, 01:40 (GMT + 9)


Seafood mislabelling can actually lead consumers to eat more sustainably, concluded scientists from the University of Washington (UW) broadly examining the ecological and financial impacts of the issue.

These scientists found that the substituted fish is often more plentiful and of a better conservation status than the fish on the label or in the restaurant menu.

Official estimates have shown that up to 30 per cent of the seafood served in restaurants and sold in supermarkets is mislabelled due to fraud, human error or marketing ploys combined with an often multicountry traverse from boat to restaurant.

“One of the motivations and hopes for this study is that we can help inform people who are trying to exert their consumer power to shift seafood markets toward carrying more sustainable options,” said co-author Christine Stawitz, a UW doctoral student in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management program.

The researchers, all UW graduate students in aquatic and fishery sciences, based their study on data from 43 published papers that tested the DNA of fish at various locations, including ports, restaurants, grocery stores and fish markets to determine whether mislabeling occurred.

After that, they matched the conservation status and estimated price for each of the mislabeled and true fishes listed in the studies.

In this way, they found a wide range of conservation status and price differences, but two general trends emerged: True fish sold are of a better conservation status and slightly less expensive than the species named when fish are mislabeled.

“We found a lot of diversity in conservation status across taxa,” said co-author Margaret Siple.

“Depending on what you order or purchase, you can get a fish that is more endangered than what you ordered, or something that is actually of better conservation status. What we want to emphasize is how diverse these differences are,” Siple added.

Their analysis found that true fish are valued at about 97 per cent of the mislabeled seafood, which means consumers are paying on average a little more for mislabelled fish.

The study did not examine the potential reasons behind this, but the researchers speculate that while it could be intentional mislabeling to rip off consumers, it is just as likely restaurants and markets are serving and stocking fish they think match the label, but are cheaper, more plentiful options.

A white-fish filet can look like any number of species, they explained, and substitutions could happen anywhere in the supply chain.

The new study also summarizes which fish are most likely to be mislabeled and of those which varied the most in conservation status between true fish and mislabelled fish.

The paper mentions the example of the snapper, which is one of the most frequently mislabelled fish. Its conservation status is vulnerable to endangered — meaning its population isn’t doing well — but the fishes most often substituted for snapper are considered critically endangered.

Results from this study, published online in Conservation Letters, could be useful in helping consumers make sustainable purchasing decisions by avoiding fish that are most likely to be mislabelled.

That list is led by croakers, shark catfish (or “basa”), sturgeon and perch. Consumers can also look out for fish commonly replaced with species that are not from sustainable stocks, such eel, hake and snapper.

The researchers also consider that these results could also help seafood certification efforts such as the Marine Stewardship Council and theMonterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch focus efforts on fisheries that are most likely to be mislabelled. 

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