Americans trying to avoid purchasing farm-raised salmon might need to look beyond restaurant menus and food packaging labels, especially during the winter months.
A recent report conducted by the ocean advocacy group Oceana found that 43 percent of 83 samples taken from restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Chicago, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., in 2014 were mislabelled, either marked “wild” when actually farm raised, or marked as an incorrect species.
The difference? Seasonal availability of wild salmon, the researchers say. Packagers more frequently mark farm-raised salmon as wild when wild salmon are out of season, typically during the winter and early spring months, according to the latest report.
"Eat your salmon in season," Dr. Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana told USA Today. "Time of year makes such a big difference on whether salmon mislabeling is high or low."
“If it’s winter, and the menu offers ‘wild,’ ‘Pacific,’ or ‘Alaskan’ salmon, ask for more information, like the specific species,” wrote Patrick Mustain, Oceana Communications Manager in a blog post on Scientific American. “If the restaurant can’t provide that information, order something else, unless you’re okay with possibly eating mislabeled farmed salmon.”
Last year, Oceana also revealed that one out of every three shrimp sold in the US in mislabelled.
Besides potential environmental and health concerns, seafood mislabelling affects the economy and the livelihood of American fishing communities.
In June of last year, the Obama administration “set up a presidential task force aimed at corralling mislabeling in order to help consumers make more informed and ethical choices when it comes to seafood,” The Christian Science Monitor reported.
But these efforts have not yet yielded real results.
“The Obama administration should require documentation for all seafood to verify that it was legally caught, and also mandate traceability throughout the entire seafood supply chain, to protect seafood buyers, honest fishermen, seafood business and our oceans,” Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana told Scientific American.
Additionally, since well over half of US seafood is imported, ethical issues in the farming and catching of seafood in other countries is also worth noting.
For example, ‘whiteleg’ shrimp are often marketed as ‘wild Pacific,’ but often these shrimp are really coming from Southeast Asia, “where environmental and human rights experts have long identified labor rights abuses, hazardous working conditions, damage to ecosystems and the use of hormones and antibiotics,” reported the Monitor.