What is Fish Fraud ? Q&A with Chef Ned Bell

On Tuesday, a CBC report, once again highlighted the issue of ‘Fish Fraud’, and this time it points out that up to ¼ of fish sold in Metro Vancouver are mislabeled. I don’t eat fish but still found this interesting, and even though I can appreciate that it must be tough to identify a slab of fish, I wondered how retailers could be mislabeling fish….?

I like to get to the bottom of things that weigh on my mind and I fortunately have an extremely reliable source to rely on. Enter Chef and Author, Ned Bell. For those of you that don’t know, Ned is not just an exceptional chef. He’s been acknowledged and awarded as a Canadian leader of sustainable fishing and aquaculture advocacy by his peers. He’s relentlessly traveled the country, and world, to discuss, lecture, gain insight ,and self educate all he can about the topic. He produced a top selling cookbook, Lure, last year, which all proceeds have gone to support sustainable seafood.  He also recently wrote this piece on the subject, that is fresh on our Blog. Maybe other than phoning David Suzuki, I couldn’t find a more qualified person to go to on the topic.

So I put these questions to him:

Jed: ‘Ned, Fish Fraud, what’s the deal? Are people being ripped off?’

Ned: ‘It’s not quite like that. Years ago the seafood industry decided to simplify the names of fish to types of fish. For example, there are 31 types of rockfish in the waters off our coast alone. People only have so much capacity and all these names were/are very confusing so the industry decided to call all Snapper, Snapper, for example. Within all types of fish, like Snapper, there are some that are better for eating than others so not all Snapper at the grocery store is the same. This is where you get low quality fish sold at a high price, with a misleading name.’  

Jed: ‘Ok, I get that, but is this really a big deal? Are people really getting duped?’

Ned: ‘Unfortunately, yes. As an example and from my direct experience, I’d bet that ½ of ‘fresh’ salmon sold in Metro Vancouver may be fresh, but not local. Many people could be expecting wild salmon but getting farmed and not knowing it. The fish is flown in from Alaska and/or Russia, where practices are not the same as BC. There are no rules or regulations that manages labelling and tractability and what is being sold to our retailers or restaurants. Fish isn’t chicken; even for us pro’s it’s very hard to tell what we’re being sold and food costs are a big issue. People will only pay so much and want certain fish all year round. The local fisheries season is basically from March to November – outside of that, ‘fresh fish’ isn’t really a thing. I say to people all them time, make sure you ask: do you know where the fish came from and is it sustainable?’

Jed: ‘So what I understand from you is, like much of the food system, there are big issues that need some serious regulation to help consumers? ’

Ned: ‘Yes! The oceans need guardians and champions, and consumers must demand better liability laws. It’s up to the everyday consumer to see this as a threat and demand better. Not only are people being taken advantage of, but the Oceans are under threat by this behavior.’

Jed: “This is a lot to take in. I would love to do more to make a difference but it seems there are so many things that I should be doing that it becomes overwhelming. If you could tell me the one thing that we could tell our readers that could make a difference, what would it be?’

Ned: ‘Know your fisherman, or at least buy from where you can trust where the fish comes from. These are few Fishmongers and businesses that are leaders in their industries:  Finest At Sea (FAS), Skipper Otto, Fresh Ideas Start Here (FISH), The Fish Counter. Each one can tell you every detail about where the fish was caught (even on what boat!), what exact species it is, how, when and where it was processed, how long it’s been since it was caught, and who the driver was that brought the fish from the boat to the store. This is true transparency in the world of selling fish, and also supplies a fair wage to local fishers.’

Jed; ‘Thanks, Ned. This is great information. If I want to know more, where should l look?’

Ned: ‘Easy, Oceanwise,  SeaChoice, which is David Suzuki’s organization and Oceana Canada, which also has a great infographic on what major retailers are doing to supply their customers with the best option.’


I want to thank my great friend Ned, who has taught me so much, and continues to make the world a better place. He graciously shared a recipe from his book with us.  Want to do something really small that could have a big impact? Consider signing this petition.

2 responses to “What is Fish Fraud ? Q&A with Chef Ned Bell

    1. Hi Nancy, what Chef Ned says is “Ocean Wise is a binary recommendation based on the scientific research and marine biology from Seafood Watch at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium”. What this means is that the Ocean Wise label give you a certain assurance of sustainability but does not tell you what it is or it’s history. You could still easily fall victim to ‘Fish Fraud’ while buying Ocean Wise fish. The best choice you can make is to buy fish from a Fishmonger. I hope this helps. Jed

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