British fish and chipper customers are unknowingly eating threatened sharks that are mistakenly labeled as other species of fish, according to a new scientific report.
Researchers at the University of Exeter have used DNA barcoding, where DNA samples are checked against a species database, to track the sale of threatened shark products in takeaways and fishmongers.
Most of the samples were identified as spiny cages, part of the family of sharks that are critically endangered in the northeast Atlantic, where landings were banned.
The report, however, cited evidence of thornbushes being imported into the UK, including from Canada, which exported 1,950 million tonnes to the EU in 2001. (link)
"The results show that although incorrect labeling of fresh and frozen products is rare, many retailers are not using official designations and the use of generic terms is widespread, making it difficult for consumers to make informed purchases and does not follow EU legislation on labeling. of seafood, "the authors wrote.
The study analyzed 78 samples of takeaways and 39 of fishmongers, as well as 10 dry fins from a wholesaler.
Fins analysis also identified threatened sharks, including the cut-off hammerhead shark.
The EU has strict legislation governing seafood labeling, which should include important information, such as trade and scientific names, to ensure traceability and identification.
However, the report's authors said there is widespread use of ambiguous terms such as rock and huss salmon, for example, used to describe a variety of species.
"This denies consumers the right to avoid species of greater concern for conservation or those associated with health problems or food quality," the report said.
"The use of such ambiguous umbrella labels is contrary to the spirit of recent EU legislation that has sought to empower consumers and protect them from undue labels and fraud."
Habitat loss, hunting and climate change pose serious threats to sharks, but overexploitation is probably the dominant factor in population decline, the researchers wrote.
The landing of thornbushes in EU waters has been banned since 2011. This has boosted imports of fisheries in the US and Argentina, which has developed to fill the supply gap in the European market.
Subsequent declines in US capture then saw the development of fisheries in Canada and New Zealand.
Trade was supported by the continued emergence of South American, African and Pacific suppliers.
Similar misleading labeling scandals have also hit the US and Canada in recent years.
Last year, an investigation into seafood fraud by the Oceana defense group found that nearly half of the seafood samples tested at Canadian supermarkets and restaurants were mislabeled.
DNA tests at Atlanta restaurants and markets in 2015 found that more than a third of the 19 restaurants claiming grouper on the menu were actually selling Asian catfish.
In 2012, the DNA test confirmed that nearly one-third of the 96 seafood samples collected in southern Florida by Oceana were mislabeled based on Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Sushi restaurants had the highest proportion of wrong samples, according to the report.