We believe that alongside plastic pollution management and waste reduction, knowing your food is essential to creating a sustainable lifestyle, respectful of our available resources.
On March 7th, Oceana, a marine conservation nonprofit, published a report revealing that 20 percent of the 449 fish they tested were incorrectly labeled, which is consistent with other previous research such as the 2017 study by researchers at the University of California which found that half of all the sushi sold in L.A. restaurants weren't what they listed to be on the menu. In December 2018, another report found that twenty-five percent of fish (one in four) sold at supermarkets were mislabeled in New York.
The US, where 90 percent of seafood is imported) is not alone in the mislabelling of food - in Europe nearly a third of all seafood produce was once mislabelled until a combination of laws and consumer awareness drove that down to only four percent. The problem is worldwide, as seafood fraud is common for its profitability, with little barrier to fraud in restaurants. Indeed, fish ordered at restaurants are even more likely to be mislabeled than those bought at markets or grocery stores (in the US, and we can understand how it would be the same in Asia). Cheaper fish can be labeled as local catch, and farm-raised fish marketed as of wild provenance.
Is seafood fraud happening in Singapore?
It is a fraud in Singapore of course, under the Wholesome Meat and Fish Act, and punishable by a fine of up to S$50,000 and/or a maximum imprisonment term of two years for a first conviction... but it still happens. It has been found for instance that of eight fish tested by the CNA team, one labelled Pacific cod was actually Alaskan pollock, which despite being part of the cod family too, is not green-listed on the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore Food Guide.
Why is fish mislabelling a concern to you?
For one, you would expect to know what type of fish you are eating. Furthermore, if you are being careful with the origin of your foods in order to eat more sustainably and better quality foods, you lose all chance at making informed decisions, and could be paying premium prices for nothing. In the US, they found that substitute fish of lesser quality, used as replacements for popular fish, commonly contained higher levels of mercury or derived from less sustainable fisheries. If you don't know the real source of your food, you expose yourself to unknown risks too, as regions have different regulations on chemicals and handling of food.
It's also a big problem in terms of marine conservation, as naming fish or crustacean properly is essential to identifying species that are endangered, and even at risk of near extinction. A common example is the Atlantic halibut, which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has red-listed, often labelled Pacific or Alaskan halibut, or the terribly over-fished large ocean Chilean sea bass that comes from cold southern or Antarctic waters, often labelled just "sea bass".
What can you do to eat more sustainable seafood?
We're increasingly trying to eat sustainably, but to do so you also need to start learning about what is in season in your area in order to sniff out the more obvious frauds.
Download and refer to the WWF Singapore Seafood Guide to be more aware of the species to avoid or be more particular about, such as the Red grouper, overexploited or often from unsustainable sources. Keep a note in your phone of all the species that are, regardless of how they claim to be farmed, simply not sustainable, such as shark, bluefin tuna, seabass barramundi and rays.
Avoid products such as fish-balls and crab sticks that have no clear indication of the source for the fish products they contain.
If you have pets, choose brands that support sustainable farming and fishing such as Fussie Cat, Kiwi Kitchens, and Open Farms. Avoid all products made from "fish by-products".
Look out for sustainable seafood labels, that are better regulated and quite strict, such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practice. What we really like about the ASC is they have a farm / supplier / product search to look up sustainable produce.
Note: we are not affiliated with any of the brands we recommend in this article. We purely use these as examples and for educational purposes, and do not make any profit from featuring them. In this way, you can be sure that we strive to provide information that is most useful to you and which we believe in.