Fish Fraud: Investigation Finds Up To Half Of All Fish Aussies Eat Is Mislabelled

Fish and chips are a staple in the diet of any Australian in the summertime, but if you've them in the last year there's a high chance you've consumed something that was mislabeled.

A review into worldwide fish labelling in shops from 2018 found that nearly a third of the seafood we eat is mislabelled. Mislabeling can occur by accident when a fish is misidentified or it can happen deliberately for financial gain.

Now, a team of producers from The Sunday Project has investigated seafood mislabelling in Australia, to see how common it is here.

The team purchased 24 samples of fish from a range of restaurants, supermarkets, takeaway shops and fish markets in Melbourne and Sydney and had the seafood DNA tested to see if the label matched the product.

24 samples of fish were purchased to be tested. Image: The Sunday Project

Shockingly, the results revealed a whopping 50 percent of fish tested has been labelled as something else when sold.

According to The Sunday Project, takeaway shops accounted for 65 percent of the mislabelled fish samples.

"Our results were that half of our samples were mislabelled so seven of the 24 samples were completely the wrong identification and another five samples were using obsolete names," Senior Research Scientist at the Australia Museum Dr. Andrew Mitchell told The Sunday Project.

The biggest discrepancies included a cheap South African Hake being sold as the more expensive Whiting and Cod and a grilled Snapper which turned out to be Nile Tilapia -- a highly invasive species known to destroy native fisheries.

Retailers and restaurateurs in Australia have no legal obligations to accurately advertise the fish they serve. In fact, correctly labelling seafood is voluntary under the Austalia Fish Name Standard.

The biggest discrepancies were cheap South African Hake being sold off as the more expensive Whiting and Cod. Image: The Sunday Project

One of the major issues that surfaced in The Sunday Project's investigation was the question of who to report the mislabelling to.

The team contacted the ACCC, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) and the NSW Food Authority with its findings. The ACCC referred the producers to FSANZ and FSANZ referred them to the ACCC.



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While the NSW Food Authority does have a name and shame register for customers, it said it was unable to take third party research as evidence.

Chef Matthew Evans told The Sunday Project that voluntary fish labelling had failed.

"That’s because companies can get away with it, who do you report it to?" Evans said.

"What’s happened is that they’re allowing the people who we need to be protected from to get away with inappropriate behaviour."

The fish was tested to see if it matched its label. Image: The Sunday Project

When The Sunday Project contacted the businesses who incorrectly labelled their fish, they claimed they were unaware of the mistake and some shifted the blame to their suppliers.

While he admitted it can be difficult to determine at which point along the supply chain mislabelling can occur, Evans refused to blame fishermen.

"I’ve been on fishing boats all around Australia and I can tell you that fisherman always label every tub of fish that comes off that boat," Evans said.

"I’ve seen the packs that are imported into Australia and they always say on every block of frozen fish what species it is."

"But somewhere between the fishing boat and the consumer, or the importer and the consumer, the information is lost."

The information is lost somewhere between the consumer and the importer. Image: The Sunday Project

For Evans, it's not simply about imported seafood being substandard, but rather that consumers should be told what they are eating so they can make an informed decision on what they purchase.



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"I am so keen to get fish labelled properly in this country," Evans said.

The first thing you need to do for people to know and trust what they eat is to tell them what they’re eating."

The Sunday Project airs every Sunday evening at 6.30 on Network 10.

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