Making sure local seafood -- STAYS local seafood, authorities move in
By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
4/14/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
In coastal towns across the United States, in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, one can see many stands offering up seafood that boasts of being locally caught and processed. That isn't necessarily so -- 92 percent of all seafood in the U.S. is imported elsewhere, and the government is coming down hard to insure truth in advertising.
With 92 percent of all seafood in the U.S. is imported elsewhere, and the government is coming down hard to insure truth in advertising.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A new seafood labeling law in the South Carolina General Assembly sets out to address this. Officials want to make sure that what's advertised as fresh local shrimp isn't imported and frozen. The law would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally mislabel seafood.
It's a trend sweeping the nation. Maryland state delegate Eric Luedtke introduced a law that imposes penalties for intentionally mislabeling seafood like the Chesapeake Bay's iconic blue crab. In addition, the governor of Washington last signed a bill requiring all processed fish and shellfish to be labeled by their common names in order to avoid confusing consumers.
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Called the SAFE Act, which stands for the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. The law requires consumer information as to where and when the seafood was caught, following seafood through final sale.
"It's gotten a lot worse in recent years with the number of fish coming in from all over the world," Ben Hartig, a commercial fisherman from Hobe Sound, Florida says. Hartig also serves as the chairman of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council that helps manage fisheries off the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.
Oceana, the conservation group reported that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 seafood samples last year it purchased and tested nationwide were mislabeled under Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Only seven of the 120 samples of fish purported to be red snapper really were red snapper based on DNA testing.
"We like to say it hurts the ocean, can impact your health and hurt consumers as well as honest fishermen," Beth Lowell, who works for the conservation group says.
She warns that if people see a lot of red snapper being sold, they get the false impression there's plenty, even though stocks are rebuilding in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, customers may end up buying mislabeled high mercury fish when they think they are purchasing something else with lower levels.
Consumers may also be paying too much, thinking they are getting more expensive, fresh local fish rather than cheaper, imported fish.
The group's study involved only fresh and frozen seafood. Spokesman Dustin Cranor said the group was not aware of any studies examining mislabeling of canned seafood.
"It's a huge issue that people are selling fish as something that it's not," Chris Conklin, South Carolina seafood store owner says.
"I know a place where they pay $2 or $3 a pound, thaw it out and sell it for $18 and call it local grouper," he said. As for people selling shrimp out of the back of trucks as local: "With the terrible shrimp season we had last year, there is no local shrimp left."
Congress is probably in a better position to deal with the labeling and many times imported fish is mislabeled before arriving on American shores.
"What states can do is somewhat limited because a great deal of the problem isn't a local fisherman calling one thing something else," Robert Vanasse, the executive director of Saving Seafood, a nonprofit group says.
It's also hard for most people to tell if they are getting local shrimp.
"When you go into a restaurant," Frank Blum, executive director of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance, says. "You can be fooled if you don't know the biology and how to recognize the different species."
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