There has been quite a bit of news in recent years about the mislabeling of fish sold in markets and restaurants. One study a few years ago concluded that 1/3 of fish sold is not what it is labeled to be. Much of the practice is economic fraud: substituting cheaper, easier-to-find fish for rarer, more valuable types. For example, the study found that fish sold as red snapper was almost always not what it claimed to be. But cheating paying customers is not the only problem associated with the misidentification of fish.
A recent study published in Scientific Reports looked at the effects of mislabeling on the conservation of dwindling fish stocks and sustainability. The same lack of good controls on global trade that lead to defrauded consumers is also leading to exploitation of threatened fish stocks.
The study looked at global production and trade statistics of the popular snapper fishes and uncovered large inconsistencies in records leading to the conclusion that the official numbers reported for snapper trade may be underestimated by more than 70%.
There are major discrepancies between the imports reported by the U.S., which is the world’s largest consumer of snapper, and the exports declared by the main suppliers: Mexico, Panama and Brazil. The global data is further muddied by various kinds of mislabeling. For example, New Zealand reports large snapper exports, but the fish they actually export is silver seabream, which is locally called “snapper” but is actually part of a different fish family.
The current global fish trade classification system paints with a very broad brush, allowing for lots of misleading information. The truth is, we don’t really know how we are doing in sustaining the populations of many kinds of fish.
Photo, posted November 2, 2012, courtesy of Ralph Daily via Flickr.