Almost half of seafood sold in Canada is mislabelled, new report finds

When it comes to eating fish in Canada are you sure you’re getting the species you’re paying for?

“We know that all around the world that seafood mislabelling is a widespread and very common problem," said Sayara Thurston, Seafood Fraud Campaigner with Oceana Canada.

Oceana Canada’s new report on fish fraud found that almost half of all fish sold by retailers and restaurants were mislabelled.

Oceana used DNA samples from fish in four major Canadian cities and found that 46 per cent of the time the fish Canadians think they're buying is not the fish they're actually getting.

The survey found that fish was mislabelled 32 per cent of the time in Halifax, 50 per cent of the time in Toronto and Ottawa, and 52 per cent of the time in Montreal.

It's happening more often in restaurants than in retail stores and like most fraud the reason is to make more money.

“Consumers don't want to be paying more for products than they should and seafood fraud is almost always economically motivated. It’s almost always a less expensive fish being mislabelled as a more expensive product," said Thurston.

Some of the most commonly mislabelled species include snapper, butterfish, yellowtail and white tuna.

Oceana says the federal government has committed to a "boat to plate" traceability program, but so far it's not in place and there's a concern Canada is falling behind other parts of the world when cracking down on mislabelling.

Sylvain Charlebois, a food researcher with Dalhousie University, said while it’s a great goal to trace a fish from the ocean to someone’s plate, in practice it can be difficult to do.

“The whole issue of boat to plate traceability is very tough because you need everyone on board to participate," said Charlebois.

The survey found 87 per cent of Canadians are concerned about mislabelling of seafood and it's not just for monetary reasons there are safety concerns too.

The study found in ten cases products labelled as butterfish or tuna were actually escolar an oily fish that can cause gastrointestinal problems.

In another case a species of fish was found for sale that isn’t currently authorized to be sold in Canada.

“From a health perspective if you have allergies or you are pregnant there are certain species you need to avoid, so if you're not confident with the labeling of fish that is a concern," said Thurston.

The report also found that Canadian suppliers, retailers and restaurants may also be victims of seafood fraud and could be selling fish they were unaware was mislabeled.

As a consumer one way to avoid fish fraud is to purchase the entire fish so you know what you're getting. You can also buy fish in season and get to know your prices because if certain species are very inexpensive they may not be the fish you think.