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Oceana Canada investigation finds 46 per cent of seafood samples are mislabelled

Oceana Canada’s 2020 report on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices found that Canada is also losing millions of dollars each year because of murky seafood supply chains.

August 4, 2021  by CM Staff

TORONTO — The results of Oceana Canada’s latest seafood fraud investigation, released today and part of the most comprehensive, national, multi-year DNA testing study in Canada, reveals that 46 per cent of seafood samples tested in restaurants and grocery stores in four major Canadian cities were mislabelled.

Given widespread concern among Canadians and a lack of government progress in developing a seafood traceability system, Oceana Canada revisited some of the cities where it had previously sampled seafood. Forty-six per cent of the samples from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto were mislabelled (43 out of 94). This is just one percentage point off from the 47 per cent mislabelling rate found among 472 samples Oceana Canada tested between 2017 and 2019, and consistent with earlier studies in Canada and globally.

The Canadian government committed to implementing a boat-to-plate seafood traceability system in 2019, which would bring Canada more in line with widely accepted global best practices; however, it has still not put forward a plan or timeline for doing so. Until this happens, Canadians have no guarantee that the seafood they eat is safe, legally caught or honestly labelled. Oceana Canada is calling on the government to act now on its commitment by developing a solution that is mandatory, comprehensive, harmonizes with trading partners and meets global best practices.

“Buying fish shouldn’t be a guessing game. Canadians deserve to have confidence in the seafood they eat,” said Sayara Thurston, Seafood Fraud Campaigner. “As other parts of the world strengthen existing traceability systems or develop new ones, Canada falls even further behind. The federal government committed to addressing this almost two years ago but has not made any real progress. The situation is clear, and given the lack of progress, unsurprising: seafood mislabelling is still rampant across Canada.”

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Key testing results:

  • Mislabelling rates by city: Montreal: 52 per cent, Ottawa: 50 per cent, Toronto: 50 per cent, Halifax: 32 per cent.
  • Overall, there were 10 instances where products labelled as butterfish or tuna were escolar, which can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea and is banned from sale in several countries.
  • One of the species of fish is not authorized to be sold in Canada.
  • Among the 13 samples labelled snapper, seven were tilapia, which is a much cheaper species.
  • All the samples of butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna were mislabelled (24 samples in total)
  • The mislabelling rate among retailers was 6.5 per cent, lower than the 25 per cent combined average from Oceana Canada’s previous studies. The mislabelling rate among restaurants increased from 56 per cent to 65 per cent. Because of Canada’s opaque seafood supply chains, retailers and restaurants can themselves be victims of fraud, and even correctly labelled products could have been fished illegally or unknowingly sourced from forced labour.

Oceana Canada’s 2020 report on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices found that Canada is also losing millions of dollars each year because of murky seafood supply chains. Canadians are spending up to $160 million a year on seafood caught through illegal fishing and Canada is losing up to $93.8 million in tax revenue each year due to the illicit trade of seafood products.