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How Fraud Laws Could Potentially Be Hurting The Seafood Industry

With a new administration in full swing, many of the old industry standards, rules, and regulations are getting a second look. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the EPA and FDA. What that will do to the seafood industry remains to be seen.

Statistics show that in nearly 74% of the instances researched at sushi restaurants, consumers being offered anything from sea urchin to crab were being defrauded by cheaper seafood substitutes without even being aware of it. Making matters worse, researchers found that in as many as 92% of the sushi establishments, what was being sold as “red snapper” was an imposter fish; for tuna, the numbers were as high as 71%.

Seafood fraud in the sushi and food industry is not a new practice. Oceana, a leading advocate for transparency in the seafood industry, found that as much as 20% of fish sold commercially is mislabeled fraudulently. Unfortunately, taking less expensive fish and labeling it as something more exotic and expensive is a common practice.

That poses a problem on two fronts. The first is that consumers are unwittingly being sold food that isn’t what they think it is, which is fraud. Secondly, in some instances, the substitutes are endangered species that are being depleted at an enormous rate, instead of coming from fisheries that have more sustainable substitutes.

One of the last bills put into motion by the Obama Administration was an attempt to curb the deceptive practice of mislabeling fish, in order to protect endangered species and prevent consumer fraud. Fish entering the US from international fishing institutions often don’t adhere to the same standards as American-based ones, which leads to an unfair marketplace for American fisheries and the depletion of the ocean's supply of fish species.

The new legislation requires that any international fish import explicitly states the origin of the fish brought into the American food market. Every fish that is sold in the US must have the ability to be traced to the original fish farm or fishing boat.

One of the top criminal lawyers in Philadelphia can confirm that the new rules will not only increase the paperwork and legalities of fish trade and lead to higher prices for restaurateurs, it will also increase the price passed down to the consumer. With many more means of control comes a higher price tag that will likely have a huge impact on the seafood industry, from fisherman to consumer. The seafood industry, not taking the rules laying down, has decided to sue the federal government due to the expensive and unnecessary burdens that the new rules will cause.

Starting on January 1, 2018, if it’s not overridden, the rule will require that any importer working in the US have records that source fish being sold for 13 of the highest-priority seafood species from cod to tuna. Importers wanting to do business in the US will have to keep records dating two years back for all the fish caught, its origin, and when it was captured.

The law was designed to ensure that seafood is not only legally caught, but labeled for protection against depletion of the natural resources available. The lawsuit was filed by the National Fisheries Institute and other industry players. They allege that the new laws would put a tremendous burden on the fishing industry.

Oceana, the leading complainant, insists that no one is more concerned about seafood fraud than those who distribute it and who have been lobbying for more stringent fairness in the sale of seafood.

But the crackdown imposed by the law set to go into effect is overreaching and will require excessive and severe record-keeping and data collection, which is entirely unnecessary. Although there are those who break the rules and sell fraudulent seafood, imposing the types of standards in the new laws would unfairly punish an entire industry for the bad deeds of a couple of offenders.

Those who support the new laws believe that there is nothing excessive about the new rules. Similar to the laws already in place for domestically-caught fish, proponents believe that it is time that international fisheries be held to the same standards and accountability as native fisheries. It is likely, however, that if the new laws go into effect, seafood lovers across the US may have to curb their appetites to keep up with probable rising costs.