Exposing Fish Fraud: 20/20 Reveals Why We Need Traceability in Seafood

According to a recent report on ABC’s 20/20, Americans consumed more than 4.7 billion pounds of fish last year. “But an ABC News investigation reveals consumers don’t often get what they pay for,” said the report. (Note that the fish part starts at 3:42 in the above video.)

The program went on to explain that about 85% of fish eaten in the U.S. is imported, while less than 2% is inspected by the FDA.

National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver told 20/20 on camera, “That’s the problem, there is no traceability in the system.”

Seaver related his account of recently buying what he thought was Maryland blue crab, only to find out it was actually sourced from Indonesia (he detailed his experience in a recent Ocean Views post).

Following up on that account, 20/20 bought fish marketed as white tuna in New York City and sent it to a Florida testing lab. Overall, 86% of that fish was actually escolar, not tuna at all, according to scientist Mahmood Shivji. 20/20 called escolar the “Ex-Lax fish” because some people can have digestive trouble with it.

“If you eat red snapper for 30 days in LA you will never see red snapper,” said Michael Hirshfield of Oceana. “You put a nice cream lemon sauce on it, I don’t think anybody can tell the difference.”

Seaver added that while 40,000 Copper River salmon were sold last year, only 12,000 fish were actually caught in Alaska’s Copper River during that time.

Click here to learn about how National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative is helping to identify and support individuals and organizations that are using creative and entrepreneurial approaches to marine conservation.


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

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