Illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing is an estimated $23 billion industry, and one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity and abundance. Seafood mislabeling can hide that. The Oceana report highlighted cases of fraud ranging from individual swaps of cheaper fish like cheaper haddock being sold as more expensive cod, to an investigation currently underway for a New England supplier allegedly covering up roughly $154 million in illegally caught and mislabeled seafood. Instances of economically motivated mislabeling like these defraud consumers, and undercut honest fishermen and businesses.
There are reasons behind laws prohibiting the catch of certain fish in certain places at certain times. Our fisheries are under extreme pressure, and to bring them back to their former abundance, fisheries are must be managed with scientifically-based catch limits. Some species of fish are threatened with extinction, and are prohibited from being caught, or some areas are set off-limits during certain times. Illegal fishers all over the world flout these rules, and those ill-gotten fish enter the supply chain. This is a serious problem. Oceana’s review of fraud studies found that 12 percent of the species substituted are considered critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable to the threat of extinction by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature.
Some species of fish carry specific health risks that consumers might want to avoid. Probably the grossest example of this is escolar, which has been frequently sold as “white tuna” in sushi restaurants in the United States. Escolar contains a naturally-occurring “gempylotoxin,” which can cause a waxy bowel discharge , nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most folks don’t want to finish off their sashimi experience with a sake bomb, only to have an entirely different kind of bomb later that evening.