Seafood: Fraud, Mis-labeling and Laundering.

Do you know what seafood you are eating?
http://www.ecowatch.org

Many of us eat seafood, because we like the taste, for religious or cultural reasons, and or for health related reasons; high in omega fatty acids, healthier than red meat etc. I particularly enjoy good seafood paella, a platter of sashimi or a plate of fish and chips. However, in order to ensure that the seafood that I eat is sustainable and healthy, I always try to ensure that the fish I eat is local and caught or farmed in a sustainable and ethical manner. In this way I also try to minimize the chance that the fish I eat is not full of pollutants and heavy metals.

I am often “that” person who while at a meal or while out shopping quizzes the wait staff or manager about the origin of the fish on offer. Sometimes the discussion is informative and helpful but very often I get blank looks and end up having to explain the importance of eating local, ethical and sustainable, to someone who is generally looking at me like I am a crazy person and thinking to themselves that I should just “get on with it and make a decision!”

Fortunately, in the last few years the various stakeholders within the biodiversity and seafood sector have tried to educate the public about sustainable seafood consumption and how to choose seafood that is healthy without becoming a contributor to fishery collapse and loss of biodiversity.

These education measures have taken the form of outreach programs, licensing and quota systems, DNA testing, cell phone apps, pocket guides, websites aimed at preventing  the consumption of seafood that is unsafe for consumption or the consumption of species that are  on their way to becoming extinct or endangered. This has made my dining and seafood shopping experience a bit easier and calmer.

However, I recently came across an article that mentioned seafood fraud and seafood laundering, that sent me into a bit of a panic. I had never actually though of seafood fraud and seafood laundering ever having anything to do with each other let alone having anything to do with me.

“Regardless of the reason, seafood fraud is illegal and can have serious consequences for fish, fishermen, fishmongers, and fish-eaters.” (www.fishwatch.gov).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/oshadavidson/2011/05/26/dna-tests-show-fraud-in-seafood-labeling-is-widespread/

Popular fish and their frauds (from “Bait and Switch,” Oceana). Correct answers are : 1. Fish on the left is Nile perch. 2. Right is mako shark. 3. Right is rockfish. 4. Left is farmed Atlantic salmon.

Seafood laundering occurs when seafood and seafood products are laundered through a third-party to avoid duties and licenses and increase catches and profits. Such laundered seafood enters the market illegally and results in mislabeled seafood, seafood fraud, and ecosystem collapse and resource depletion. Seafood fraud also occurs when farmed, important or endangered seafood is labeled as sustainably sourced and or wild seafood. Seafood fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase. Seafood fraud occurs “for a variety of reasons, from simple misunderstandings or lack of information to blatantly deceiving consumers in order to increase profits, or even worse, laundering illegally harvested seafood (http://oceana.org).

Seafood fraud not only causes the collapse of fisheries which would in turn affect our dietary choices and make dining out or grocery shopping  that much more stressful, but, seafood fraud also has significant impacts such as;

  • Impacts on natural systems: The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the fact that consumers may be misled about the nature and status of fish stocks and the condition of the marine environment due to mis-labeling, which maintains the appearance of a steady supply of popular fish species despite severe overfishing. This result in the general public is being unaware that the species that they are consuming is being rapidly depleted or threatened.

The oceans provide food, medicine, energy and serve as a recreational resource, but they are not as once commonly believed, an inexhaustible resource. (http://oceana.org)

  • Undermining of conservation efforts as a result of mis-labeling. Mis-labeling of seafood makes it difficult for consumers to make eco-friendly choices despite the will to do so.
  • Negative health impacts: Consumers may end up consuming seafood that contains high levels of contaminants and toxins such as mercury. This could be hazardous to the health and wellbeing of women trying to conceive, pregnant woman, nursing mothers and young children.
  • Negative impacts the livelihoods of communities that depend on the seafood harvesting and processing industry.
  • The creation of a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally      caught seafood products through legitimate markets. This results in the      undermining of conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental      capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen. (www.oceana.org)

Despite the fact that you may be trying to consume only sustainably caught and healthy seafood (two points for trying) that is not full of toxins and or about to go extinct there is quite a high possibility that you have consumed illegal and fraudulent seafood.

I thought I would be able to provide a tip on how to ensure that your seafood is legal, non-toxic and sustainable. However, I find myself stumped …..  Clearly, the seafood labeling and conservation initiatives are not fool-proof. I guess once again the message is the same; don’t blindly accept the packaging, advertising, greenwash and the hype and try to ensure that your individual consumption of seafood is in fact what it is labeled as being.

References and additional reading for the super keen;

Fishwatch

Seafood advice

Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings

State of World Fisheries

Fishwatch facts

Oceana

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Earth Hour 2012, Low Hanging Fruit & Really Making a Difference?

Tonight is Earth Hour 2012!Earth Hour aims to increase awareness of the  (negative) impact of electricity on the environment and urge consumers to act together to reduce electricity consumption and thereby contribute to saving the earth.

….. or in the words of the actual Earth Hour organizers:

“Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history – Earth Hour. ” (www.earthhour.org)

More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011 alone, sending a powerful message for action on climate change. It also ushered in a new era with members going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action for the planet. Without a doubt, it’s shown how great things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause. (www.earthhour.org)

….an alternative view of Earth Hour is:

“Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. ………. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.” (www.wattsupwiththat.com)

I agree that we need to unite and act and make changes in our resource use and consumption patterns to ensure that we use our resources in a more efficient, equitable and sustainable manner. I also believe that we need to raise awareness and increase the urgency of our actions and end the low- hanging fruit, talk, conference, committee type of actions that are clearly not making much of a difference. We need initiatives that actually make a difference and move away from mere awareness building, and hour-long initiatives.

For me the issue is more that earth hour is close to being seen as a yearly green wash, feel good, drop in the ocean event that doesn’t actually make much difference if we all go back to our normal consumption patterns after the hour of action.

I do understand that the aim is to increase awareness and change electricity use patterns, but how many of us observe the hour, give ourselves a good (green) pat on the back and then carry on with our normal way of life without making worthwhile changes in how we use electricity?

We all need to change our resource use patterns, but is one hour per year really going to help us?

I am not saying don’t support Earth Hour, though I am saying I don’t think a few green washed actions will make much difference! We need to focus our energies on actions and initiatives that actually work and are sustainable!

References and reading :

Earth Hour Website

Action for Climate Justice: Earth Hour and Green wash 

WUWT 

Article on WWF-UK on Green wash and Earth Hour