Oceana study finds seafood fraud still rife in Canada

A seafood sampling study conducted in four Canadian cities by advocacy group Oceana Canada has found that nearly half were mislabelled, suggesting fraud is still a big problem.

The organisation says that the supply chain for seafood in Canada is "opaque, with weak traceability standards," and it criticised the government for not following through on a two-year-old pledge to implement a "boat-to-plate" traceability system

In the latest survey, 46 per cent of samples taken from restaurants and retail outlets in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto didn’t contain the species noted on the label, barely different from the 47 per cent rate recorded in its last study published in 2019.

There were 10 instances where products labelled as butterfish or tuna were in fact escolar, which can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea and is banned from sale in several countries. 

Among 13 samples labelled snapper, seven were tilapia, which is a much cheaper species, and all the samples of butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna were mislabelled. One sample as a species of fish not authorised for sale in Canada, according to the report.

There were signs of improvement in the retail channel, with 6.5 per cent of samples mislabelled compared to 25 per cent seen in Oceana's earlier studies, but in restaurants the rate climbed to 65 per cent from 56 per cent.

It's not necessarily the case that the restaurants themselves are engaged in fraud however, as the supply chain is complex and not transparent. Meanwhile, even correctly label products could have been fished illegally or unknowingly sourced from forced labour, according to the group.

Oceana also estimates that Canadians are spending up to C$160m ($128m) a year on seafood caught through illegal fishing and Canada is losing up to $94m in tax revenue each year due to the illicit trade of seafood products

"Without action, Canada will continue to lag behind other countries when it comes to tackling seafood fraud," said Oceana. "By fulfilling its commitment, the government can keep illegal fish out of the Canadian market and protect our health, our oceans, our wallets and our seafood industry."

It also cites market research conducted on its behalf by Abacus Data which found that 87 per cent of Canadian consumers are concerned about purchasing seafood that is mislabelled, and 86 per cent are worried about the government's failure to act on mislabelling and illegal fishing.

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