Figuring out whether the fish on your plate is as advertised is harder than you’d imagine.
But he’s more concerned that the purported “fraud” might have more to do with semantics than actual seedy behavior.
Lasprogata said Samuels & Son Seafood does its best to educate its customers, but suggested that the information doesn’t always trickle down to frontline restaurant and retail staff — particularly inexperienced, minimum-wage servers and counter staff.
“If you don’t know what you’re looking at . . . you could easily make a mistake,” he said of the potential domino effect of a misidentified portion. Likewise, there are cultural issues that must be considered, since any given fish could be known by different names around the globe.
“The one thing that is confusing about this issue is not mislabeling but regional identification,” he counseled.
To that end, he said Samuels & Son has been working with the Pennsylvania branch of the FDA to develop a DNA library to better identify all manner of seafood.
Jonathan Pearlman, director of operations at Congressional Seafood, said his organization has fully embraced transparency, tagging its inventory with scannable QR codes that track each item “from hook to plate.”
ProFish President Gregory Casten and John Rorapaugh, ProFish’s director of sustainable dining initiatives, are also involved in the fight, working both internally and marketwide to groom better informed consumers.
But they, like Lasprogata, have concerns about picking the right targets.
“The fraud of mislabeling . . . is committed strictly for monetary gain and as such it can be found at all levels of fish handling. Our observation is that the most blatant abuse comes not from those stages in the course of getting a fish to market, but at either the unscrupulous last dealer to the retailer or with the retailer themselves,” Team ProFish warned in an email from Casten and Rorapaugh.
The wholesaler has instituted a slew of safeguards to halt such shady dealing, ranging from the adoption of morality clauses in contracts to widespread DNA testing and its homegrown, traceability-advancing FishPrint system.
ProFish is pleased Congress has shown an interest in tightening regulatory safety nets, but stressed that there is more work to be done.
“It is key that a labeling standard is decided upon and a technology led system is adopted and built by the industry,” Team ProFish counseled.
In the meantime, they urged consumers to do their homework when contemplating catch-of-the-day specials.
“Ask the restaurant or retailer a few questions: Where was this fish caught? How was this fish caught? Is it farmed or wild?” Team ProFish advised. “Not that there are good or bad answers in these cases; you just want to make sure the person you are trusting your meal to can answer them.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.