Peer-reviewed articles

Fish product mislabelling: failings of traceability in the production chain and implications for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing

Authors: Helyar, SJ, Lloyd, HD, Leake, J., Bennet, N., Carvalho, GR

Version: PlosOne

Publication year: 2014


Increasing consumer demand for seafood, combined with concern over the health of our oceans, has led to many initiatives aimed at tackling destructive fishing practices and promoting the sustainability of fisheries. An important global threat to sustainable fisheries is Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and there is now an increased emphasis on the use of trade measures to prevent IUU-sourced fish and fish products from entering the international market. Initiatives encompass new legislation in the European Union requiring the inclusion of species names on catch labels throughout the distribution chain. Such certification measures do not, however, guarantee accuracy of species designation. Using two DNA-based methods to compare species descriptions with molecular ID, we examined 386 samples of white fish, or products labeled as primarily containing white fish, from major UK supermarket chains. Species specific real-time PCR probes were used for cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) to provide a highly sensitive and species-specific test for the major species of white fish sold in the UK. Additionally, fish-specific primers were used to sequence the forensically validated barcoding gene, mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI). Overall levels of congruence between product label and genetic species identification were high, with 94.34% of samples correctly labeled, though a significant proportion in terms of potential volume, were mislabelled. Substitution was usually for a cheaper alternative and, in one case, extended to a tropical species. To our knowledge, this is the first published study encompassing a large-scale assessment of UK retailers, and if representative, indicates a potentially significant incidence of incorrect product designation.

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