“Organizations that monitor illegal fishing around the world often use the term ‘pirate’ to refer to both illegitimate fishing itself and the vessels used to perpetrate it…
According to the New York Times, [Europe] imports 60 percent of the seafood it consumes, with a significant portion of that total being what the Times called ‘contraband’–fish caught or shipped in violation of international quotas, treaties, and laws…
Charles Clover, the End of the Line author, calls pirated fish–often poetically referred to as black fish–‘Europe’s dirty little secret.’ But it’s not much of a secret anymore.
What is secret quite often is where the fish on your dinner plate came from, and how it got there. Seafood fraud has become rampant, not just in Europe but all over the world. It’s not unusual for catches to be intentionally mislabeled–caught by an illegal boat, then packed in boxes bearing the stamp of a legitimate, legally licensed vessel. The catch then enters a nation’s market, typically through a port where inspections are known to be lax.
For example, a favorite port of entry for illicit catches entering European markets is Spain’s Canary Islands, which are notorious for their virtually nonexistent inspection standards. This is how, say, a load of dorado (also known as mahi mahi) caught off the coast of West Africa by a French longliner might wind up in an outdoor market in Berlin, packed in a box stamped with the distinctive bright red logo of the Chinese fishing industry.
Retailers of questionable seafood typically have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy when it comes to the sources of their products. In hard times, they’re simply happy to have it, and the past several years have been hard times. The combination of surging demand and scarce supply has driven up prices–doubling or tripling them, or even more–which encourages even more pirate fishing and even more illegality throughout the system, starting where the boats drop their nets and proceeding all the way to the supermarket seafood counter where that fresh tuna fillet is wrapped for you…
Seafood fraud is remarkably easy to pull off. And unfortunately, it happens all the time. You’d hate to think they would do this, but there are restaurants that knowingly substitute a cheap fish for the expensive one on the menu and pocket the difference. A 2009 investigation by the Scripps Television Station Group found that twenty-three out of thirty-eight restaurants in Kansas City, Phoenix, Baltimore, and Tampa were ‘charging patrons for top-notch seafood while actually peddling inferior fillets…’
Enterprising newspaper and TV reporters continue to expose these frauds, which seem to be particularly prevalent in Florida, but as long as there’s profit to be made, it seems there will always be someone willing to cut corners, or to outright lie, in order to make a few extra dollars.
At the root of seafood fraud is our old nemesis, overfishing. You wouldn’t see someone substituting dogfish shark for cod if cod were still plentiful. And the fraud undermines any efforts to convince the restaurant-going public that overfishing is a real concern.”