As the world’s most highly traded commodity, seafood is an important protein source globally, contributing up to 50% of protein consumption in some countries. Growing demand for seafood, combined with the depletion of marine resources, generates incentives for fraud within the seafood supply chain, which in turn can create a feedback mechanism impacting marine ecosystems, as well as seafood producers and consumers. While seafood fraud comes in a variety of forms, mislabeling—labeling one seafood product with a description of another—is perhaps the most concerning. A substitute product can masquerade as a target seafood product, with mislabeling occurring in three primary forms: species, provenance (i.e., geography), or mode of production (e.g., wild-caught versus aquaculture). Seafood mislabeling is suspected of having a suite of impacts, including economic losses, fishery stock impacts, and human health risks. It is also blamed for undermining seafood sustainability efforts and enabling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is thought to make up 20-30% of US seafood imports. Yet, the biological and economic impacts of seafood fraud are speculative and anecdotal, with little connection to actual impact mechanisms and feedbacks occurring in the fisheries involved in fraud.
Research on seafood fraud is a nascent topic. A recent study makes the claim that “mislabeling results in the sale of items of better conservation status and nearly equivalent price.” However the study has a number of issues that question its main conclusions. First, based on the data and results that are presented, there appear to be errors and some of the conclusions are not supported. Second, there may be a bias in the analyses that favors the conclusions. Third, details are lacking regarding the analyses, challenging their verification. ACS published a letter in the journal Conservation Letters describing the issues. Seafood fraud results from natural and human systems interacting in complex ways, which is likely resulting in place-based consequences. We argue that in order to characterize the system dynamics and provide insights into the financial and ecological implications of seafood fraud, a more careful and cautious approach is required.
Read our short letter here.