Priceonomics

Mislabeling of Seafood by Retail Outlet. Source: Smithsonian Magazine. Data via Oceana.

If you watched the popular documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, then you have some understanding of the care and attention to detail expected of the world's greatest sushi chefs. But that fastidiousness doesn't extend throughout the seafood economy. Prepare to doubt every piece of sushi you eat from now on.

From 2010 to 2012, the oceans conservation group Oceana conducted an extensive study on seafood fraud, collecting over 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Their findings? A full 33% of all samples were mislabeled. Moreover, from over 200 samples taken from sushi venues, 74% were mislabeled. 

Nationwide, 87% of snapper and 59% of tuna samples were fraudulent. 84% of white tuna was not white tuna, but rather escolar, which can cause serious digestive problems for some people if eaten in large quantities.

According to Oceana, it is difficult to determine where along the supply chain this fraud occurs. About 90% of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, yet less than 1% of it is subject to government inspections specifically for fraud. Oceana summarizes the implications:

“[Our findings] demonstrate that seafood fraud not only hurts our wallets, but also honest fishermen and businesses along the supply chain. These fraudulent activities also carry potentially serious concerns for our health as well as the wellbeing of our oceans and vulnerable fish populations.”

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