Monday, July 2, 2018

Fish Fraud: Fish for Your Life

If you've been paying attention to the news, chances are you know that a good portion of the seafood nowadays is fake.  Not as in fake fish, but fish fraud.  Fish that are passed off as another type of fish.  It many cases, the fish passed off are cheaper and yes, more sustainable, versions of the fish you intended to buy, but in some cases, the fish was actually an endangered species pawned off as something else so that the fishery doesn't have to deal with the paperwork and fines.

It's one thing to buy a fish that you know is sustainable; it's quite another thing to pay for the fish you think you're paying for, but it's actually a cheap fraud.  Although I could harp on sustainability, I'd much rather address the whole issue of fish fraud and how to deal with it.

How Fish Fraud Adds to Our Food Fraud Problems

I've talked quite a bit how Extra Virgin Olive Oil often isn't.  It seems that our fish is pretty fishy as well.  According to Oceana, which has kept track of fish fraud since 2010, about 20 percent of our fish worldwide is mislabeled.  That means one out of five fish meals you eat is most likely not what you think it is.  Like red snapper?  Good luck tasting one.  Out of 77 samples of "red snapper" tested from California and Washington, only one turned out to be the real deal.  What was even more horrifying was that 56 percent of those "red snapper" came from fish that had been over fished and were declining.  Oceana confirmed that with their own study that out of 120 "red snappers" tested, only 7 were real red snappers.

The obvious problem with his fish fraud is that consumers are paying top dollar for food they aren't getting. This encourages the fraudulent companies to continue harvesting whatever is convenient or cheap and passing them off as something else.  This affects your pocketbook and the fisheries, themselves. 

How Much Food Fraud Goes On?

I've tried to look up actual statistics when it comes to food fraud, and I've seen numbers between five and 20 percent.  The range is obvious: nobody really has a handle on how screwed up our food supply really is.  What is concerning is that some of those adulterations and substitutions can actually be dangerous or even deadly.  Instead of rice, how about some nice plastic rice?  How about corn syrup laden honey that's tainted with antibiotics and heavy metals?  Not so appetizing, eh?

So, it's little wonder that we have the problem with fish.  But what, really, can be done about it?

Know Your Fishmonger

If there was ever a case to recommend eating local foods, it is this.  You need to find a local person who sells their local catch to consumers.  In places such as fisherman's wharfs, you need to get out there and meet your fishmonger.  Find out where they get their catch.  Find out if its imported or if he actually caught it.  Opt for local fish rather than something caught far away.

Fish for Your Life

This is the one thing that got me thinking about fishing again.  As much as it might take time out of my ridiculously busy day, it is part of my quest as a locavore. Here in Montana we have streams, lakes, and rivers chock full of fish that get stocked by our local FWP (Fish, Wildlife, and Parks), and it makes absolutely no sense to not take advantage of them.  Plus, trout has an amazing amount of Omega 3s that is far better than the farm-raised tilapia or other fish.

What About Farm-Raised Fish?

This, of course, brings up the farm-raised fish. Some farm-raised fish like salmon or trout are loaded with Omega 3s due to their diet.  Tilapia, on the other hand, doesn't have much in Omega 3s, so if you're eating for heart health, you should stick to that.  You should only purchase fish that have been raised in countries with good practices.  Even so, farm-raised fish are often raised in the ocean, which means that they may be lower in mercury but higher in other pollutants and antibiotics.  It's interesting because Monterey Bay Aquarium has their own Seafood Watch, which helps people make choices on where the healthiest fish for them are.

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