An ocean advocacy organization is giving Seattle consumers the opportunity to replicate a recent study showing that more than one-third of fish sold in south Puget Sound restaurants is mislabeled.
Oceana is recruiting Seattle eaters to submit local seafood samples for free DNA testing; participants will receive a collection kit with vials and a return envelope. "It's very old school," says campaign manager Margot Stiles. The grassroots effort is a component of Oceana's ongoing fight against fraudulent seafood, the substitution of a cheaper or less-sustainable species for a more prized fish.
"We're trying to discourage illegal fishing around the world, and one of the problems is it's really easy to sell this stuff in the U.S.," Stiles says.
If Oceana had its druthers, the federal government would barcode and track fish. But the organization hopes to strengthen its call for increased oversight by establishing the scope of seafood fraud. A University of Washington-Tacoma study last year found 38 percent of restaurant samples were mislabeled, mirroring statistics produced by various research institutions and media outlets. With its citizen testing project, though, Oceana hopes to expand the geographic reach of seafood fraud investigations. Over the next year, Oceana will offer kits to eaters across the country.
"My colleague and I went to L.A., and we had a blitz," Stiles says of Oceana's previous attempts to replicate seafood fraud findings. "But if you involve more people, you can get more fish."
As recently as five years ago, the cost of DNA testing was prohibitively expensive. "Now we can send samples to the lab and it's really reasonable," Stiles says.
Stiles says Oceana is especially interested in sampling wild salmon, since the University of Washington study revealed instances of farmed salmon being passed off as wild.
Eaters interested in becoming "seafood sleuths" can register here. Participants are invited to submit seafood from grocery stores, fish markets, sushi bars and restaurants.
"We're looking for fish from pretty much anywhere, except fish you caught yourself," Stiles says. "There's no fakery there."