Stephen Wagner

Document Type



In 2012 alone, Americans consumed approximately 4.5 billion pounds of seafood, over 90% of which was imported. Simply put, Americans eat a lot of seafood, with upwards of 500 different species available to satiate the demand. Consequently, imported and domestic seafood in the United States is a thriving 80.2 billion dollar market, with certain highly desired species of fish fetching steep prices.

One fundamental assumption of the consumer-driven market is that the label on the seafood correctly identifies the species of seafood, thereby, among other things, justifying the market price. It is increasingly clear, however, that this assumption is often not the case for seafood: many consumers are awakening to the upsetting and dangerous reality that the premium-priced, ecologically-certified, wild Atlantic salmon they ordered at the restaurant or picked up at the grocer is perhaps the much less-expensive and arguably unsustainable farm-raised salmon; or that their sashimi ahi tuna, prized for its delicate flavor and light flesh, is potentially the snake mackerel, a species of fish whose oils are known to cause severe gastrointestinal problems.

The dilemma consumers face is seafood fraud: the substitution, misrepresentation, or mislabeling of a species of seafood that has become progressively prevalent with the increase of globalized trade, consumer demand for seafood, increased consumer demand for sustainably-sourced seafood, and the availability of reliable and inexpensive DNA technology that can test the flesh of the food item to determine its species and origin. Whether seafood fraud is intentional or unintentional, it is an economic, environmental, and food safety harm. Particularly because of the severity of the threat to food safety, this comment examines the adequacy of the existing federal regulatory regime addressing seafood fraud, specifically focusing on potential impacts of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) on seafood fraud.

Part I of this comment explores what exactly seafood fraud is and the negative impacts this has on the economy, the environment, and human health. Part II lays out the different federal agencies responsible for regulating seafood fraud and briefly analyzes the agencies’ attempts to address the problem. Part III summarizes the origin and scope of FSMA and highlights potential new powers and opportunities it gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for addressing seafood fraud. Finally, part IV concludes that even with FSMA, there remain significant problems with the current food safety regime that inhibit real action on addressing seafood fraud on the federal level and discusses other potential alternative approaches, including Senator (then Representative) Ed Markey’s recently re-introduced Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (SAFE Seafood Act).

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