How much of the seafood sold commercially is exactly what it says it is? Oceana Canada conducted a study to find out, sampling seafood from five cities in the country, only to find that 44 per cent of what they tested was mislabelled.
The report said Canadian seafood is not traced to and from where it’s processed, so what ends up on the grocery store shelf often claims to be a more expensive and safer to eat product than it really is. But Brad Mirau, the President and CEO of Aero Trading Co. Ltd in Prince Rupert, said the headline of the report is too provocative for the details it provides. He said while intentionally mislabelling, especially for financial gain, should be punished, sometimes mislabelling is accidental or simply uses the generic name of the product. Fish such as yellow rockfish are often referred to a snappers, the type of fish Oceana’s report said had a 100 per cent mislabelling rate in its study.
Aero Trading developed its own stringent traceability system 15 to 20 years ago, Mirau told the Northern View. Customers requested it, and although he said he was initially reluctant because of the amount of detail, he’s since grown to love the system their own computer programmer designed. Every box of fish produced at Aero Trading gets a label with the company’s Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulated number, the name of the boat, the time it was off loaded, the species and weight, all the way down to the area of catch. On top of the system, Aero Trading is regularly audited by their wholesale customers, who range from grocers to international high-end businesses.
“It gives your customer a lot of confidence in your product,” Mirau said.
Once the fish is sold to the customer and it leaves the chain of command, that’s when mislabelling — intentionally or accidentally — can occur. The Oceana report doesn’t give much detail as to where it got the samples its study is based off of, if they spoke to anyone or how they collected the samples.
Fukasaku in Prince Rupert is the oldest fully Ocean Wise approved sushi restaurant in Canada. Owner Dai Fukasaku read the Oceana Canada report and shared how he makes sure the seafood he uses is the right product.
“My case is quite different because I have a direct connection to local fisherman, and other stuff I buy from Aero Trading. They have a really clear traceability. If I want to know, I can ask them which boat caught my fish and where and in which method. All of that information is really clear to me. If you were buying seafood from a big restaurant supplier, that traceability is not that clear,” he said.
Fukasaku has had its 100 per cent Ocean Wise approval since it opened five years ago, and a focus on sustainable seafood has always been a priority for how Fukasaku runs his restaurant.
“I love local seafood and I want to make sure it’s sustainably caught. It’s good for the ocean, it’s good for you nutrition and health wise,” he said. “It’s available in this town, but it’s not available in many of the grocery stores. I want to show people in town, hey we can get sustainably caught, healthy seafood here and if you want to know, I can tell you where they were caught.”
When buying seafood, Fukasaku recommends looking for the Ocean Wise label, which guarantees the fish was caught sustainably with the least impact on the ocean. Save-On-Foods and Safeway in Prince Rupert are both Ocean Wise partners.
“Other than that, it’s a tough one. Sometimes you get seafood from an Asian country and you don’t even know how they are caught or where they are caught and if it’s a real fish or not.”
The report also asks people to sign a petition to CFIA to enforce full boat-to-place traceability for seafood sold in Canada.
“If you want to keep eating healthy fish and keep yourself healthy, just take the time and add your name to the list,” Fukasaku said. “I already did.”
Canfisco Group, which operates a fish plant in Prince Rupert, is also audited by the Marine Council Stewardship Certification for Sustainable Fisheries, the same as Aero Trading. No one from the Prince Rupert Canfisco organization could be reached for comment before publication.