A compelling report just released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reveals some surprising information about both shark and ray meat. It also dispels the myth that Asian countries are largely responsible for most shark exploitation as a result of their affinity for shark fin soup. Perhaps the most stunning part of the report is its revelations regarding mislabeled shark and ray meat products.
As a U.S. consumer, you may be unwittingly eating either shark or ray mislabeled as something else. However, mislabeling doesn’t occur just here. Several other countries mentioned in the WWF report faced similar problems. This is troubling given the fact that global trade compliance requires all imports and exports be correctly labeled and classified.
Intentionally mislabeling exports can land a company in big trouble, according to Vigilant Global Trade Services, a global trade compliance provider based in Shaker Heights, Ohio. They say labeling affects classification which, in turn, affects licensing. Mislabeling is a common tactic used to get around trade restrictions.
Shark Meat in the EU
Asian countries are frequently blamed for shark exploitation. Even if you consider harvesting sharks for their fins as exploitation, Asian shark harvesting pales in comparison to what the WWF uncovered in the EU. According to their report, the EU is responsible for more than 20% of the global trade in shark meat.
The report reveals Spain as the world’s largest shark meat exporter. Italy is the largest importer. Furthermore, the global market for shark and ray meat combined is an estimated $2.6 billion annually. The market for shark fins is significantly less at $1.5 billion.
Know What You Are Eating
If you are concerned about the overfishing of shark and ray species, be careful about the seafood you eat. Learn how to read labels. Make a point of educating yourself about how shark and ray meat are labeled in other countries. Here are just some of the terms that countries use to mislabel their shark and ray meat, according to the WWF report:
- Argentina – pollo de mar (sea chicken)
- South Africa – skomoro (ocean fillets)
- France – saumonette (little salmon)
- Italy – palombo
- UK – rock salmon.
Intentionally mislabeling seafood products is nothing less than fraud. It is a big problem worldwide. In the UK, a 2021 analysis conducted by the Guardian demonstrated that upwards of 40% of all seafood products from surveyed restaurants, markets, and fishmongers were labeled incorrectly. Their analysis covered fish products sold in thirty countries around the world.
Their study looked at fish products in Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK – among others. Canada and the UK were found to have the most mislabeled seafood products at about 55%. The U.S. came in at about 38%.
Regulations Can’t Force Honesty
The real tragedy in all of this is that regulations exist to prevent exactly what is happening. But human nature is what it is. Regulations cannot force honesty. They can only give authorities a tool for catching and prosecuting those who choose to be dishonest.
Global trade regulations are designed to let exporters know what is and is not acceptable by law. Ultimately, it’s up to exporters to comply without being forced. Should they choose not to, they are taking the risk of being caught and prosecuted.
The end result is that the seafood you think might be salmon or sea chicken could actually be shark or ray. There are fishing operations that actively seek out shark and ray species because they know how valuable the meat is. The lesson for consumers is clear: be careful what you eat.