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Keywords:

  • Cod mislabelling;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • fisheries transparency;
  • IUU fishing;
  • seafood traceability

Abstract

The global seafood industry, influenced by consumer demand, is closely linked to the global fishing industry, which determines the variety of fish available for consumption. The recently revealed issue of seafood mislabelling threatens to weaken this link by removing consumer power to influence patterns of fisheries exploitation through informed choice. Recognizing this, there is an urgent need to go beyond the mere documentation of the phenomenon and learn more about the origins of this problem and the nature of factors influencing its occurrence to develop solutions. In an attempt to understand seafood mislabelling more thoroughly in Europe, 226 cod products were purchased from Ireland and the UK, genetically identified using a DNA barcoding technique (COI barcoding gene), and species identification results were compared against product labels. Cod mislabelling proved more severe in Ireland than in the UK (28.4% vs. 7.4%). Moreover, whereas data show that in Ireland, cheaper species are sold as cod, in the UK, threatened Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) may be sold as ‘sustainably sourced’ Pacific cod. Considering these countries operate under the same EU policies for seafood traceability and labelling, it is likely that this situation has been influenced by heightened consumer awareness in the UK, which has created an environment where mislabelling is discouraged. In addition to identifying samples, traceability information from packaged cod was used to trace products back to supplying companies. Although inconclusive in determining blame, this exercise has demonstrated that using traceability information can add explanatory power when attempting to determine responsibility for the occurrence of mislabelling.