Massachusetts Lawmaker’s Bill Aims to Fight Seafood Fraud

Boston — Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey introduced revised legislation Wednesday intended to fight the widespread mislabeling of seafood.

Markey filed the bill in response to studies on seafood fraud, including a report by the environmental group Oceana that found a third of 1,215 fish samples it collected from 674 retail outlets were mislabeled.

“Fish fraud is a national problem that needs a national solution,” Markey said in a statement.

“From tackle to table, this bill makes the entire seafood supply chain more transparent and trustworthy.”

The bill aims to ensure that information about domestic and imported fish — such as its species and where and how it was caught — follow the fish from boat to market.

It also seeks to establish civil penalties for violators and strengthen the ability of federal regulators to stop fraudulent seafood shipments from entering the country.

Markey introduced similar legislation last year, but the bill went nowhere. It has the same five co-sponsors this year, three Democrats and two Republicans.

This year’s revisions include withholding penalties from domestic seafood dealers who sell fraudulent seafood if they can prove the product was misrepresented to them.

The revisions also recognize new Food and Drug Administration authority in refusing to allow unsafe seafood into the country.

The bill’s advocates said it’s needed to protect consumer health and wallets, and the livelihood of fishermen.

The Marine Fish Conservation Network noted Oceana’s study found that just seven of 120 samples of so-called red snapper were actually red snapper. In a press release by the group, red snapper fisherman Donny Walters of Pensacola, Fla., called that “frustrating as hell.”

“It’s been shocking to discover how often seafood lovers around the country are victims of a bait and switch,” he said. “They deserve far better — and so do I.”

Meanwhile, regulators say they’re worried that fishermen are cheating by fishing in one area, then claiming the catch is from another.

New England fisheries are divided into different management areas, with different catch allocations for each area.

For instance, there are separate catch quotas for cod in Georges Bank and cod in the adjacent Gulf of Maine.

The Cape Cod Times reported that some regulators believe some fishermen are catching fish in areas where they have small allocations, but are then reporting the fish were caught in areas where their allocations are larger. They say catch reports on some boats aren’t matching satellite tracking of their location.

Regulators say misreporting undermines efforts to protect fish that swim and spawn in specific areas.

Industry advocates don’t believe the practice is widespread but are working to eliminate it.