Of the 7% mislabelled seafood, just 1% represented species substitutions, or fraud

A countrywide SeaChoice research project found seafood fraud in Canada is minimal, but on-package seafood labels generally lack critical information that would allow consumers to make informed purchases.

In spring 2017, SeaChoice partnered with the University of Guelph Centre for Biodiversity Genomics’ Life Scanner program to engage 300 volunteer “citizen scientists” across Canada. Each was provided with two DNA ID kits to sample seafood in their local grocery stores. The results are now public on the LifeScanner website.

The results show that just one per cent of the seafood tested across Canada was not what the label said it was, and seven per cent of tested seafood was mislabelled – sold under a name that was not compliant with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s labelling regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information:

Press release

LifeScanner portal for full results

LabelMySeafood.ca

Labelling and traceability – on SeaChoice website

Click to download full press release and backgrounder

VANCOUVER — U.S.-based Seafood Watch’s ranking of B.C. open-net-pen farmed salmon as a “good alternative” seafood choice is problematic, according to SeaChoice, Canada’s sustainable seafood watchdog.

Seafood Watch’s shift in ranking from Red (avoid) to Yellow (good alternative) results from an improved score for the assessment criterion that measures whether disease transmission from farmed salmon to wild fish has population-level impacts on wild salmon.

“We disagree with the conclusion that disease and sea lice from B.C.’s farmed salmon have no population-level impact on wild salmon,” said Karen Wristen, SeaChoice steering committee member from Living Oceans Society. “We don’t see conclusive scientific evidence in the report to justify the ranking change. Peer-reviewed science indicates significant concerns remain in this respect.”

“We know salmon farms can elevate sea lice numbers. That can affect wild salmon populations,” said Martin Krkosek, a professor and Canada research chair at the University of Toronto. “For example, warm conditions and poor timing for treating outbreaks likely caused high sea lice numbers in the Broughton Archipelago in 2015. Our analysis indicated that outbreak resulted in a 23 per cent loss of pink salmon in the area.”

The Seafood Watch assessment also failed to take a precautionary approach, despite methodology that requires it. SeaChoice acknowledges that gaps remain in understanding disease interactions between farmed and wild salmon, and attributes those in large part to a lack of publicly available disease data from salmon farm operations.

“Our organizations have called for data transparency from industry, especially on fish health, for more than a decade, yet much of the data related to disease and lice outbreaks and management remain unavailable,” said Scott Wallace, SeaChoice steering committee member from David Suzuki Foundation. “This should be a minimum requirement for the industry to operate in Canadian public waters.”

Uncertainty surrounding the health of many wild salmon stocks compounds the difficulty in determining population impacts. A recent study found Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s wild salmon monitoring to be woefully insufficient and the conservation health of around half of B.C.’s wild salmon populations to be unknown.

Seafood Watch uses a traffic light ranking system for seafood (Green is considered “best choice, Yellow is a “good alternative” and Red means “avoid”). A yellow ranking should not be equated with sustainability, but rather indicates that concerns remain with the farming practices. The assessment received a score of 4.28 out of 10.

“The problem is that yellow-ranked seafood is widely viewed as a sustainable choice when often significant environmental concerns remain,” said Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans Society. “Salmon farmed in open-net pens won’t be a sustainable option until operations change, transparency improves and broad scientific consensus concludes that wild salmon populations aren’t negatively affected. In the meantime, we recommend that consumers support more sustainable practices and technologies such as land-based closed containment farmed salmon”. The Ocean Wise Seafood Program, one of Canada’s prominent seafood ranking organizations, continues to not recommend B.C. open-net-pen farmed salmon.

SeaChoice is calling on the federal government to improve salmon farming data transparency, and to enhance disease research and monitoring to ensure sustainability of wild salmon stocks that interact with open-net salmon farms. SeaChoice is also asking the Canadian government to respect the Cohen Commission recommendation that salmon farms should be removed from wild salmon migration routes, unless it can be proven they are not contributing to the decline of wild salmon.

— END —

Download: Press release and background information

Media contact:
Sarah Foster, National Coordinator — SeaChoice Phone: (604) 916 9398; Email: info@seachoice.org

SeaChoice

SeaChoice is a collaboration of three internationally recognized organizations — the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society — that use their broad, national expertise to find solutions for healthy oceans. Launched in 2006, SeaChoice was created to provide informative resources on seafood sustainability at various levels of the seafood supply chain, from harvesters to consumers. After achieving significant progress in the retail landscape between 2006 and 2016, with many retail partners reaching sustainable seafood commitments, SeaChoice is working toward a new and ambitious goal of increasing sustainability throughout the entire seafood supply chain. SeaChoice is a member organization of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, and works with consumers, retailers, suppliers, government and producers to accomplish its objectives.

Backgrounder

The 2017 reassessment ranks B.C. farmed salmon as a “good alternative” (Yellow). Previous Seafood Watch assessments ranked B.C. farmed salmon as “avoid” (Red). The last assessment was in March 2014. It concluded, “the overuse of chemicals and the potential impacts of disease on wild populations are serious concerns.” Today, even more chemicals are being used to raise farmed salmon than in 2014, and potential impacts of disease on wild salmon have not been ruled out. In fact, a deadly disease linked to a new virus has recently been diagnosed in B.C. farmed salmoni and the implications of its spread to wild fish have yet to be determined. Judging from the effect of the disease on farmed fish (weakened hearts and muscle deterioration), the consequences may be severe. Wild salmon need to be strong and healthy to migrate up rivers to spawn.

What does this mean for consumers?

B.C. farmed salmon is not recommended in Canada
Canada’s only seafood ranking body, Ocean Wise, does not recommend B.C. open-net farmed salmon. Although Ocean Wise uses Seafood Watch assessments to determine its recommendations, the B.C. farmed salmon assessment’s overall score of 4.28 does not meet the Ocean Wise threshold score of 5.5. Atlantic Canada farmed salmon is also not recommended.

Yellow does not mean “go” or “sustainable”
Seafood Watch uses a “traffic light” ranking system (Green — best choice; Yellow — good alternative; Red — avoid).

Seafood Watch defines Yellow or good alternative as: “Buy, but be aware there are concerns with how they’re caught or farmed.” In other words, Yellow means some concerns remain with the farming practices used to raise these fish and is not interchangeable with “sustainable”. Unfortunately, a fundamental challenge in the marketplace is the lumping of Green- and Yellow-ranked products as “sustainable” options. Instead, Yellow should be considered “proceed with caution”.

What caused the ranking to change?

A score shift under the disease criterion of the Seafood Watch assessment from a previously deemed Moderate-High concern (score of 2 or Red) to a Moderate concern (score of 4 or Yellow) caused the overall assessment rank to change from “avoid” (Red) to “good alternative” (Yellow). Had the disease score been just one point less (i.e., a score of 3), the final ranking would have been Red. Furthermore, the overall industry score did not improve. The final score in 2014 was 4.3 out of 10; while the 2017 re-assessment score is 4.28.

Why does SeaChoice disagree with the change?

SeaChoice believes the Seafood Watch methodology was not applied appropriately for the disease criterion and so the product does not deserve a Yellow rank. Our reasoning is as follows:

1) Disease impact on wild populations remains a serious concern.
The Seafood Watch disease criterion assesses two disease classifications: pathogenic (viral and bacterial) and parasitic (sea lice). Under the Seafood Watch methodology, disease interaction risk between farmed and wild fish is assigned a score from 0 (high/critical concern) to 10 (no concern).

A disease score of 4 under this methodology equates to: “Pathogens or parasites cause morbidity or mortality in wild species but have no population impact.”

SeaChoice disagrees with this conclusion. Definitive evidence does not rule out population impacts on wild salmon populations by pathogens and parasites (sea lice) from open-net salmon farms. Peer-reviewed science published between the 2014 and 2017 Seafood Watch assessments indicates significant concerns remain in this respect. For example:

  • Piscine reovirus (PRV) and heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI): A recent Strategic Salmon Health Initiative paperii confirmed that HSMI occurs in B.C. and appears correlated with PRV. PRV has been found in B.C. wild salmon, and further study is required to establish the role salmon farming plays as a potential PRV/HSMI conduit to wild salmon.
  • Sea lice: Recent studies have found the vulnerability of wild salmon populations due to lice loads elevated by farms with ineffective sea lice management remains a serious concern. Analyses based on 15 years of field work estimated a 23 per cent loss to the Broughton Archipelago pink salmon population due to 2015 high L. salmonis lice loads. (The mortality estimate falls within the range nine to 39 per cent with 95 per cent confidence.)iii The study highlighted warmer sea conditions, inadequacies in coordination, absence of proactive treatments and a lack of an area-based management scheme contributed to the high lice loads. Meanwhile, other studies suggested the indirect mortality impact on Fraser River sockeye by the sea louse Caligus clemensi to be significant (i.e., mortality as a result of reduced growth rate and poor feeding versus direct mortality from the louse itself). Current sea lice management does not require industry to manage Caligus numbers on farmed salmon.iv,v

2) Further study is needed to fill data and knowledge gaps.
The above examples demonstrate that population impacts on wild salmon from salmon farms cannot be ruled out, and that we need to greatly improve our understanding of disease impacts from open-net salmon farms on wild populations. Understanding the extent of virus transmission between farmed and wild fish, and the degree of impact of any viral transmissions (i.e., whether or not population-level impacts may be occurring) are acknowledged scientific gaps across major salmon-farming regions (e.g., B.C., Norway).vi

The $37 million Cohen commission inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmonvii highlighted uncertainty surrounding the disease risks farmed salmon poses to wild salmon. This uncertainty prompted Justice Cohen to recommend a 2020 deadline for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to conduct research, analyses and assessments of disease interaction and impacts between farmed and wild salmon. Following the research, DFO should remove salmon farms in the Discovery Islands if salmon farms are found to pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm.

Research currently underway by the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative will help provide answers to data and knowledge gaps. The project’s intent is to identify the presence (or not) of microbes in Pacific salmon that could reduce their productivity. The research promises the first possibility to assess whether or not population-level impacts could be occurring from HSMI/PRV and other viral diseases.

Nevertheless, filling these gaps is a huge challenge in wild systems, as detection of farm-originated diseases in wild fish is confounded by the death of infected fish. That is, for farm-related pathogens to be ruled out as a cause of wild fish mortality, sampling of infected wild fish must occur before the fish die or get eaten by predators.

In addition, a recent study found DFO’s wild salmon monitoring to be at an all-time low and the conservation health status for around half of B.C. wild salmon populations unknown.viii Such fundamental data are needed to inform whether population impacts are occurring.

3) The precautionary principle should have been applied.
The Seafood Watch methodology calls on the precautionary principle where there is a lack of information and absence of data:

“Seafood Watch’s use of the Precautionary Principle when there is potential for a significant impact, but information is not available. *Note: The absence of data showing impact does not equate to no impact. (i.e., “No evidence of impact” is not the same as “Evidence of no impact.”)”ix

SeaChoice believes that the uncertainty surrounding population impacts on wild fish from pathogens and parasites originating from salmon aquaculture and the lack of definitive evidence to absolve the industry means the precautionary principle should have been applied in the 2017 Seafood Watch assessment. Unfortunately, the assessment unequivocally failed to evoke the precautionary principle for the disease criterion score.

4) Transparency and public access to fish health data remains a concern.
Publicly available information on farmed fish health remains limited and highly aggregated on DFO’s website. This despite the DFO minister’s mandate letter stated as “committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government”; the DFO Senate standing committee’s report on aquaculture to ensure public reporting “pertaining to the license and compliance of each aquaculture operator”; and the Cohen Commission recommendation to allow independent scientists access to fish health farm data.

Fish health data should regularly be made transparent and publicly available for stakeholders, including monthly raw fish health data from individual farms, as well as the diagnosis and treatment(s) of fish pathogens and parasites (e.g., substance, quantity, date). Reporting such data is part the industry’s license conditions but it is reported to government only. The public has no right to know what is really happening on farms.

References

iDi Cicco, E, Ferguson, HW, Schulze, AD, Kaukinen, KH, Li, S, Vanderstichel, R, Wessel, Ø, Rimstad, E, Gardner, IA, Hammell, KL & Miller, KM (2017). Heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) disease diagnosed on a British Columbia salmon farm through a longitudinal farm study, PLoS ONE, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171471
iiIbid.
iiiBateman AW, Peacock, SJ, Connors, B, Polk, Z, Berg, D, Krkošek, M & Morton, A (2016). Recent failure to control sea louse outbreaks on salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2016, 73(8): 1164-1172, https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2016-0122
ivGodwin, SC, Dill, LM, Reynolds, JD & Krkošek, M (2015). Sea lice, sockeye salmon, and foraging competition: lousy fish are lousy competitors, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2015, 72(7): 1113-1120, https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2014-0284
vGodwin, SC, Dill, LM, Krkošek, M, Price, MHH & Reynolds, JD (2017). Reduced growth in wild juvenile sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka infected with sea lice Journal of Fish Biology, doi:10.1111/jfb.13325.
viTaranger, GL, Karlsen, Ø, Bannister, RJ, Glover, KA, Husa, V, Karlsbakk, E, Kvamme, BO, Boxaspen, KK, Bjørn, PA, Finstad, B, Madhun, AS, Morton, HC, & Sva˚sand, T (2015). Risk assessment of the environmental impact of Norwegian Atlantic salmon farming, ICES Journal of Marine Science, vol. 72, pp.997-1021.
viiCohen, BI (2012). Cohen Commission of inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River — final report. Available at:http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/432516/publication.html
viiiPrice, MHH, English, KK, Rosenberger, AG, MacDuffee, M & Reynolds, JD (2017). Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy: an assessment of conservation progress in British Columbia, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfas-2017-0127
ixMonterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (2016), Seafood Watch Standard for Aquaculture, Available at: here

Posted by... Sarah Foster on Sep 10, 2017

New SeaChoice report: What’s behind the label?

Click to download “What’s behind the label?”

 

Our latest report reveals that seafood eco-certifications by two prominent organizations are falling short.

What’s behind the label? Assessing the impact of MSC and ASC seafood certifications in Canada is the first review of whether the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) have improved sustainability in Canadian seafood production.

With two-thirds of Canadian fisheries MSC-certified, and an industry goal to achieve ASC certification for all British Columbia farmed salmon by 2020, it is crucial these eco-labels are credibly applied and delivering genuine improvements.

While both eco-certifications may have been on the cutting edge of best practice at their outset, our analysis suggests this is no longer the case. After a decade, the role of MSC to help push improvement forward in Canadian fisheries is increasingly limited with most Canadian fisheries now certified. After only two years in Canada, ASC is in danger of lowering its sustainability bar by deferring to government regulations that are below their Standard.

It is essential that the Standards’ requirements of ‘sustainability’ are set high enough to reap adequate improvements to fishery and farming practice as they aim for certification. The schemes, otherwise, are only reinforcing status quo and, at worst, potentially undermining efforts to raise the bar higher. At risk is the credibility of eco-certifications, and ultimately, the health of marine ecosystems.

SeaChoice is committed to working with both certification schemes on recommended improvements as well as with government regulatory agencies to ensure that Canada’s laws and policies for fisheries and aquaculture operations set a high bar for sustainability.

More information:

What’s behind the label? (page on SeaChoice website)

Press release

Download reports:

What’s behind the label? Assessing the impact of MSC and ASC seafood certifications in Canada

A decade of MSC certifications in Canada – technical report

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certifications in Canada – technical report

 

Posted by... Sarah Foster on Jul 19, 2017

SeaChoice has a new direction

SeaChoice is in the process of pivoting into our next decade of work to continue to improve the sustainability of seafood produced in, and imported into, Canada. After achieving significant progress in the retail landscape between 2006 and 2016, with many of our retail partners reaching their sustainable seafood commitments, SeaChoice is setting a new and ambitious goal of increasing sustainability throughout the entire seafood supply chain – from water to table.

Since it’s founding in 2006, SeaChoice’s focus has been to provide informative resources on seafood sustainability at various levels of the seafood supply chain – from harvesters to consumers. Based on scientific assessments, SeaChoice has created easy-to-use tools that help Canadians make the best seafood choices. SeaChoice has provided advice on seafood purchasing based on environmental sustainability, which is communicated as “red”(Avoid), “yellow” (Some Concerns) and “green” (Best Choice).

One of SeaChoice’s main initiatives has been working directly with Canadian retailers to establish sustainable seafood purchasing policies and to implement market-facing sustainable seafood programs. SeaChoice has always provided this service free of charge, and links this work to its member organizations that have extensive expertise in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

Over the past decade, SeaChoice’s retailer partnerships have been successful in shifting seafood procurement away from unsustainable sources, and in developing consumer awareness of sustainable seafood options in Canada. As of December 2016, SeaChoice is proud to say that our retail partners have either met or almost met their commitments. SeaChoice values and congratulates our retail partners for their important efforts and ongoing commitment to sustainable seafood procurement and consumer education.

The success of our retailer commitments means we have reached a limit relating to our ability to help them further influence change on the water, as the majority of “red-ranked” seafood products have already been replaced with more sustainable alternatives. In order to ensure that sustainable seafood demand and supply continue to increase in Canada, SeaChoice recognizes that it is necessary to increase pressure at different places along the seafood supply chain, instead of primarily focusing at the retailer level.

In the shift away from holding direct retail partnerships, SeaChoice is taking several paths to continue improving the sustainability of seafood available in Canada. Moving forward, SeaChoice will be directing more effort and resources into:

  • Transparency and traceability, seeking improvements in seafood labelling regulations.
  • Verifying seafood labelling through DNA testing in Canadian markets.
  • Using market leverage to improve some of the least sustainable fisheries and aquaculture production.
  • Providing retailers the tools and incentives necessary to improve their sustainable seafood commitments and create their own policies in-house.

This work will be supported by SeaChoice member organization engagement in fisheries and aquaculture management, policy improvements and incentives for improved fishing and farming practices.

To this end, SeaChoice has already marked many significant accomplishments over the past year, including the following:

Seafood labelling and traceability:

  • SeaChoice has been focused on improving seafood labelling across Canada. Improved seafood labelling in Canada means that consumers can get all of the information they need at the point of sale – allowing them to make purchasing decisions based on their values.
  • We released our report card on how Canadian seafood labelling legislation compares with the US and EU, and launched an associated website at labelmyseafood.ca.
  • We contributed to the Canadian government request for input on improved food labelling and supply chain traceability (available here and here).
  • We launched a nationwide citizen science project focused on testing the DNA of seafood sold by major retailers across Canada, with an aim of evaluating the adequacy of current labelling practices.

Continuing market leverage to achieve on the water change:

  • Canada continues to produce and import seafood that is considered “red-ranked”. In some cases the market is not the right lever for making change in these fisheries or aquaculture operations. SeaChoice has instead focused efforts for these species on other areas in the supply chain, such as fisher behaviour, fisheries management, and tracking conditions of eco-certifications to ensure that these fisheries and aquaculture operations improve over time.

Sustainable seafood commitments:

  • SeaChoice has been working with retailers across Canada to internalize their seafood commitments, building in long-term capacity on tracking, reporting and improving their sustainable seafood options.
  • In order to ensure retailers continue to improve their supply chains, we are developing a tool to track how Canadian retailers progress against a suite of measures, referred to as the Common Vision for Seafood Solutions. The Common Vision has been agreed by ENGOs across North America to be the key elements of sustainable seafood procurement.

SeaChoice is excited about the next steps in the evolution of the seafood movement in Canada, and encouraged by our success over the past decade. Over the coming months there will be changes in stores as SeaChoice moves away from point-of-sale labelling with retailers. There will also be changes to the SeaChoice website and iPhone App as we transition away from ranking the sustainability of seafood. Indeed SeaChoice will be launching a whole new website this fall that profiles our new initiatives.

With our retailers reaching their seafood commitments, it is now time to dig even deeper into improving the sustainability of Canada’s seafood supply, and to focus our efforts where the greatest leverage can be found. SeaChoice and its member organizations look forward to continued improvements in the sustainability of seafood available to all Canadians. The future of our coastal communities, national food security and the health of our vast marine ecosystems is at stake in all of the work that we do.

You can find a press release about the SeaChoice transition here.

SeaChoice disagrees with the decision by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to consider farmed salmon certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as a “Good Alternative”. Seafood Watch published its new recommendation on June 5th, following a benchmarking review of the ASC’s Salmon Standard.

The Seafood Watch benchmarking suggests that salmon farmed on ASC-certified Canadian farms merits the “Good Alternative” ranking—except that Canadian farms certified by ASC don’t actually meet the criteria benchmarked by Seafood Watch.

The benchmarking exercise looked exclusively at the Salmon Standard as written and did not review its practical application. In Canada and elsewhere in the world, ASC has approved Variance Requests that substantially alter the Salmon Standard in practice.

SeaChoice calls on the ASC to take immediate action to repeal its variance request processes, in order to legitimately benchmark to a Seafood Watch “Good Alternative” recommendation.

More information:

SeaChoice media release

Benchmarking & Eco-Certifications

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC): Variances and Process

Posted by... Sarah Foster on Apr 12, 2017

SeaChoice launches labelmyseafood.ca

(Please note that the job postings using the SeaChoice name and logo ARE NOT REAL. They are a scam, set-up to get personal information and money from applicants. If you have applied, and are concerned about how it might affect you – please get in touch with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.)

SeaChoice has launched its new website on seafood labelling the Canadian marketplace.

Visit labelmyseafood.ca to find out more about the inadequacy of Canadians seafood regulations, why it matters, SeaChoice’s recommended labelling action plan for Canada, and what you can do to help!


Posted by... Sarah Foster on Mar 15, 2017

Canada scores an F in regulatory report

Canada’s seafood labelling regulations are insufficient. Businesses and consumers deserve to know more about the fish they buy.

Our latest report found that Canada’s seafood labelling lags behind its primary trading partners (the EU and US) – we gave gave Canada an “F” for its failing seafood labelling regulations.

The full report can be downloaded at www.labelmyseafood.ca

Read the SeaChoice seafood labelling report.

Learn more about labelling and traceability.

 

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