Seafood Fraud in the Lowcountry

June 27, 2019, 3:09 pm EST | Share:

CHARLESTON, SC (WTAT-TV) – CHANDLER SPEARMAN

Charleston’s waterways define its character.

They provide us with trade, recreation and food. In fact a majority of local cuisine focuses on the bounty coming from the ocean and nearby rivers, with items like She-Crab soup and shrimp and grits being staples at many restaurants. Unfortunately in some establishments seafood may be mislabeled and you might not be getting exactly what you paid for. This is the world of seafood fraud and it involves intentional dishonesty to increase profit. This occurs when falsifying the location or date of capture, or mislabeling a fish as a different species to increase the price.

In a study released March 7, 2019, Oceana (An organization that advocates for sustainable ocean policies) found that nearly 20 percent of the fish they sampled across the United States was mislabeled in some way. Their samples came from restaurants, grocery stores and other food suppliers. One of the most common practices discovered was swapping local favorites for cheaper imported fish. Another finding was marketing certain fish as “sustainable” despite their threatened or endangered status.. Only one sample collected from Charleston was mislabeled, a Sole or Flathead being marketed as Catfish.

This kind of deception can lead to a host of problems and the impacts are especially felt in coastal locations like Charleston. Buying imported seafood can hurt local fisheries. Beyond that, internationally imported seafood may be held to very different and possibly lower standards than here in South Carolina. Fisheries in China were found injecting shrimp with substances like silicone and other gels to increase their weight and therefore the price. Purchasing fish caught in unsustainable ways can lead to the decimation of certain species altogether as well as large amounts of pollution in the ocean. South Carolina has passed tougher laws to combat this issue but as evidenced, it is still possible for seafood fraud to even with strict regulations in place.

So what can you do to curb seafood fraud? Kelly Thorvalson who works with the South Carolina Aquarium’s Good Catch program, revealed a few ways. The Good Catch Program focuses on sustainable seafood, with a central goal of the initiative to work with local restaurants. The initiative offers them membership levels based on the amount of local/regional seafood they purchase over the year. This effort not only helps inject money into the local economy it also means less miles for fish to travel to our plates. This is good for the environment. Unfortunately there isn’t a surefire way to avoid seafood fraud Thorvalson explains “Doing your research is important. Knowing what local seafood is in season and available to chefs and simply asking your server where the fish was caught can help protect you. If they don’t know where it was caught, especially if it is out of season locally, that should ring some alarm bells and you might want to consider the chicken.”

If left unchecked Seafood fraud is a problem that has the potential to affect and hurt Charleston natives and local fisheries and fisherman alike. While Legislation to make regulations stricter is a step in the right direction it is not foolproof. You can combat fraud by knowing the facts about your fish and the right questions to ask. Eating sustainable seafood helps stave the issue cut down fraud while also benefiting this city we love so much.

For more information about the Good Catch program at the SC Aquarium, please visit https://scaquarium.org/conservation/goodcatch/

Chandler Spearman is a guest contributor for FOX24 and has a passion for the environment and the preservation of the Lowcountry waterways.