Tilapia (right), an inexpensive farmed fish, is often mislabeled as wild red snapper (left)

Edward Westmacott/Shutterstock.com (left); SUPIDA KHEMAWAN/Shutterstock.com (right); JIM WILSON/The New York Times/Redux Pictures (middle)

STANDARDS

CCSS: 7.SP.C.7, MP3, MP8

TEKS: 7.6I

Fishy Business

The fish on your plate may not be what you think it is

Several years ago, marine scientist Kimberly Warner developed a curious habit. She would go to a restaurant, order seafood, and cut a tiny piece to slip into her purse—sauce and all.

To those watching, Warner’s actions might have seemed strange. But she was part of a covert mission investigating seafood fraud. Warner and a team of scientists from Oceana, an ocean conservation group, wanted to see how frequently seafood was mislabeled. They collected samples from more than 650 restaurants and grocery stores across 21 states.

What they found was shocking: One in every three seafood products was wrongly identified. Imported seafood was marked as domestic, farm-raised fish was labeled as wild-caught, and less expensive species were passed off as pricier ones.

“Seafood fraud is any dishonest information about seafood you purchase,” says Warner. “Our seafood supply chains are so long and complex that it allows a lot of bad activities to occur.” Mislabeling and species substitution are just two types of seafood fraud. Dishonest fishermen are also known to illegally catch protected species.  

Consumers not only end up paying more for fraudulent fish, but may be exposed to toxins such as mercury. In addition, seafood fraud harms the environment because conservation measures like bycatch limits and others are often ignored in the process. Bycatch refers to seafood, other than the targeted species, that is accidentally caught during fishing.

Kimberly Warner developed an odd habit several years ago. The marine scientist would order seafood at a restaurant. As she was eating, she would sneak a tiny piece into her purse.

But Warner was actually on a secret mission. She was part of a team of scientists from an ocean conservation group called Oceana. They were investigating seafood fraud. They were investigating seafood fraud. Seafood fraud is when people sell you a fish that's different from what's on the menu or label. The scientists collected samples of fish from more than 650 restaurants and grocery stores in 21 states.

What they found was shocking. One in every three seafood products was incorrectly identified. Seafood imported from other countries was marked as from the U.S. Farm-raised fish was labeled as wild-caught. Less expensive fish species were passed off as pricier ones.

"Seafood fraud is any dishonest information about seafood you purchase," says Warner. "Our seafood supply chains are so long and complex that it allows a lot of bad activities to occur." Mislabeling and species substitution are just two types of seafood fraud. Dishonest fishermen are also known to illegally catch protected species.

Consumers end up paying more for fraudulent fish. They may also be exposed to toxins such as mercury. Seafood fraud can even harm the environment. Conservation measures like bycatch limits and others are often ignored. Bycatch refers to seafood, other than the targeted species, that is accidentally caught during fishing.

Sea to Table

Sea to Table’s labels show your dinner’s full journey.

The solution to seafood fraud, says Warner, lies in tracking fish from boat to plate. Under the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program newly implemented in January, importers now have to provide traceability records for 13 key species, including tuna and Atlantic cod.

Some fish companies, such as home delivery service Sea to Table, have developed their own seafood-tracking software. This software helps customers learn the story of their purchase.

“Every package of fish we sell has a traceability label that tells you species name, where and how it was caught, the name of the vessel, and sometimes even the captain’s name,” says Sean Dimin. He’s the founder of  New York City-based Sea to Table.

Dimin firmly believes that we can beat seafood fraud. “An educated consumer is the most important thing,” he says. “Just people caring and asking the question of ‘Where does my fish come from?’ is going to make the biggest possible impact.”

According to Warner, the solution to seafood fraud is tracking fish from boat to plate. The U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program was recently implemented in January. It makes importers provide detailed records of the seafood's journey from boat to plate. The program monitors 13 key species. These species include tuna and Atlantic cod.

Some independent fish distributors have created their own ways to track seafood. New York City-based Sea to Table developed their own seafood-tracking software. It helps customers learn the story of their purchases.   

"Every piece of fish we sell has a traceability label,” says Sean Dimin. He’s the co-founder of Sea to Table. The label talks about what species the fish is and where it was caught. It even says what vessel and captain caught it!

Dimin firmly believes that we can beat seafood fraud. "An educated consumer is the most powerful change," he says. "Just people caring and asking the question of 'Where does my fish come from?' is going to make the biggest possible impact," he says.  

Use the information above to answer questions about seafood fraud in the U.S. from Oceana’s study. Write your answers as percents, rounded to the nearest percent, unless otherwise asked. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use the information above to answer questions about seafood fraud in the U.S. from Oceana’s study. Write your answers as percents, rounded to the nearest percent, unless otherwise asked. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

In Northern California, Oceana’s scientists tested 89 samples of fish labeled as snapper, and 38 came back as rockfish. What’s the experimental probability of buying snapper mislabeled as rockfish?

In Northern California, Oceana’s scientists tested 89 samples of fish labeled as snapper, and 38 came back as rockfish. What’s the experimental probability of buying snapper mislabeled as rockfish?

In Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas), 7 out of 21 grocery stores mislabeled Atlantic cod. In South Florida, it was 11 out of 29 stores. Where was the experimental probability of grocery stores selling mislabeled cod higher?

In Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas), 7 out of 21 grocery stores mislabeled Atlantic cod. In South Florida, it was 11 out of 29 stores. Where was the experimental probability of grocery stores selling mislabeled cod higher?

Oceana’s scientists tested a total of 114 samples labeled as tuna, and 67 of those were mislabeled. What’s the experimental probability of buying mislabeled tuna?

Oceana’s scientists tested a total of 114 samples labeled as tuna, and 67 of those were mislabeled. What’s the experimental probability of buying mislabeled tuna?

A) Scientists from Oceana collected their samples from different places that sell seafood. They found that in grocery stores, 132 samples out of 735 were mislabeled. In restaurants it was 91 out of 240. And in and sushi venues that mainly sell sushi, they found 141 samples out of 190 were mislabeled. What is the experimental probability of buying mislabeled fish from each of these three places?

A) Scientists from Oceana collected their samples from different places that sell seafood. They found that in grocery stores, 132 samples out of 735 were mislabeled. In restaurants it was 91 out of 240. And in and sushi venues that mainly sell sushi, they found 141 samples out of 190 were mislabeled. What is the experimental probability of buying mislabeled fish from each of these three places?

B) From where would you want to avoid buying fish? Why?

B) From where would you want to avoid buying fish? Why?

Of the 120 red snapper samples tested by Oceana’s scientists, only 7 were labeled correctly! What’s the experimental probability of buying mislabeled red snapper? Express your answer as a fraction, decimal, and percent.

Oceana’s scientists tested a total of 114 samples labeled as tuna, and 67 of those were mislabeled. What’s the experimental probability of buying mislabeled tuna?

Back to top
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Games (1)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)