Canada’s seafood fraud problem detailed in new report

December 08 2017

Around half of all seafood produce available in Canada may have been mislabelled, according to new research.

Of the 98 seafood samples tested by Oceana Canada recently, 45 of them bore an inaccurate label.

Additionally, a third of the sample (33) were considered to be species substitution, since the name on the menu or label did not match the type of fish being sold.

These revelations were exposed as part of Oceana Canada’s new report titled Mystery Fish: Seafood Fraud in Canada and How to Stop It, which highlights how an increasing amount of seafood - up to 80 percent, estimates suggest - is being shipped to Canada from overseas.

Because imported seafood undertakes a complicated journey from the fishing vessel to the plate, there are plenty of opportunities for fraud and mislabelling along the way, Oceana Canada says.

Bigger than heroin and firearms combined

Josh Laughren, executive director of Oceana Canada - an independent charity set up with the aim of restoring Canadian oceans to their former glory - said there are many victims in cases of seafood fraud.

“[It] cheats Canadian consumers and hurts local, honest fishers as well as chefs and seafood companies looking to purchase sustainable seafood,” he commented, adding that it also creates health concerns and masks global human rights abuses by creating a market for illegally caught fish.

Food fraud is believed to be big business, valued at $52 billion worldwide, which makes it worth more than the heroin trade and firearms trafficking combined.

Previous studies in Canada found that two-fifths of the samples collected from grocery stores and restaurants were mislabelled.


Oceana Canada tested 19 different types of fish sold in Ottawa and found 14 of them to be mislabelled or instances of seafood fraud.

Restaurants had the highest rates of seafood fraud and mislabelling, with 68 percent of sushi vendor samples and 51 percent of non-sushi restaurant samples mislabelled, while 18 percent of grocery store samples were mislabelled.

Cases of seafood fraud were detected in 16 of the 22 Ottawa restaurants tested, including the most popular and prestigious restaurants and those known for serving sustainable seafood.

Seafood fraud can sometimes lead to health issues with Escolar, which can cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea, found as a common substitute for both white tuna and butterfish.

TV chef Michael Smith reacted to the report by saying: “Nothing is more important to me than the ingredients I use, which makes seafood fraud a real concern. I should be able to tell my guests what they are eating as well as where, when and how it was caught.”

What now?

Oceana Canada has called on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to make combatting seafood fraud a priority and to ensure all seafood sold in Canada is safe, legally caught and honestly labelled.

However, with more than 900 different species sold in Canada, it’s impossible for Canadian consumers to know exactly what fish they’re buying and almost half of Canadians (47 percent) feel they don’t have enough information about the fish they purchase from stores or restaurants.

Consequently, most Canadians are unable to correctly identify common types of fish when shown photos of them.

Oceana Canada’s Josh Laughren said Canada lags behind other nations in terms of documenting and tracing seafood.

He added: “The United States has also taken important first steps in regards to traceability which surpass Canadian regulations.

“Full boat-to-plate traceability, paired with comprehensive labelling, can help our oceans, our wallets and our health, while restoring consumer confidence.”

In a bid to combat seafood fraud in Canada, the non-profit organization intends to conduct independent seafood testing in restaurants and grocery stores across the country to better understand the extent of the problem nationally.

You can read Oceana Canada’s full report and the results of its Ottawa seafood testing at

Photo: fcafotodigital/iStock