Combining dozens of studies, The Guardian found over a third of seafood products were mislabeled.

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No matter how often research shows that the seafood industry is overrun with fraud, we can't seem to get the issue under control. This problem has been thoroughly documented, whether it's local (a 2017 study that found half of Los Angeles sushi wasn't what it was supposed to be and a 2018 study that over a quarter of New York supermarket fish was mislabeled) or global (reports from Oceana found about a fifth of all seafood globally and in the United States, respectively, were mislabeled). And yet, despite government action and the promise of technical solutions like detectors and databases, it's not getting better.

Today, The Guardian released the results of its own meta-analysis and, if anything, the report is even more troubling. Reviewing 44 studies that looked at restaurants, markets, and fishmongers in over 30 countries, the newspaper found that 36 percent of over 9,000 products were mislabeled. And the issue isn't just afflicting other parts of the world: Of the countries included, the United States was the third worst, with 38 percent of seafood mislabeled—behind only the United Kingdom and Canada (both of which had an appalling 55 percent mislabeling rate).

fresh fish at fish market
Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto

The problem goes beyond ill-informed grocery shoppers, as well. One study published in 2018 collected samples from 180 restaurants across 23 European countries and found that a third of those restaurants had sold mislabeled seafood—with the odds of some menu items being authentic equal to a coin toss.

The Guardian did add a few qualifiers to its report. "The studies in question sometimes target species known to be problematic, meaning it is inaccurate to conclude that 36 percent of all global seafood is necessarily mislabeled," reporter Stephen Leahy explained. "Nor are fish always deliberately mislabeled—although the huge majority of substitutions involved lower-priced fish replacing higher-priced ones, indicating fraud rather than carelessness."

Still, the big takeaway from The Guardian's report is something anyone who has been following this issue probably already guessed: Seafood fraud is an problem nearly as vast as the ocean—and proving especially difficult to navigate.