Most consumers assume the seafood they are eating comes from right here in the U.S., but that’s only true about 10 percent of the time. An absence of labels, mislabeling and misrepresentation of seafood origin is a widespread problem in the U.S. Lower-quality products are labeled as “Gulf” and “wild” to prompt shoppers to buy, and less desirable species are being passed off for their premium counterparts. When the supply chain is global, there are countless opportunities for misinformation to spread. Building relationships with your seafood vendors and familiarizing yourself with labeling practices can go a long way toward ensuring your seafood is American seafood. Vendors carrying the best seafood will be proud to tell you where it’s from, so ask about origin whenever you’re unsure.
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Of the shrimp we consume in America, 94 percent is from overseas, with the bulk raised on farms in India, Indonesia and Thailand. These farms are unregulated and have no oversight when it comes to best practices and health codes, so to keep production high some of these farms will treat their shrimp with antibiotics. While the FDA prohibits this practice within the U.S., the law that makes it illegal to import shrimp that contain antibiotics goes largely unenforced. So those treated shrimp end up in your local groceries, restaurants and fish counters.
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It all comes down to safety and health. A recent study revealed that one-quarter of the seafood imported from Asia and available at retail outlets in North Carolina had detectable levels of formaldehyde. Several antibiotics have been found in farm-raised fish such as tilapia, including leuco-malachite green, which the FDA banned for aquaculture use in 1983 because of “serious toxicity.” Three-quarters of the tilapia we eat in this country comes from China.
American seafood, and Louisiana Seafood in particular, is a premium product with a unique flavor that is a result of the waters where it lives and grows. Chefs nationwide swear by domestic seafood—its freshness, quality and flavor bring value and diners to their restaurants day in and day out.
And all along the nation’s shorelines—Louisiana alone has 7,721 miles—you’ll find an industry built on the localized, often family-run businesses that supply our nation with fresh domestic seafood. Since the best seafood comes from right here, make sure the best seafood is what you’re buying.
Country of Origin Labels (or COOL) are now required for seafood sold in the U.S. The seafood’s country of origin and method of production (wild-caught or farm-raised) must be labeled at the point of sale. Retailers are required to get this information from their seafood suppliers and display it in-store.
When seafood is frozen, it can be a little harder to find COOL information. Often, you’ll have to search the back of a bag of frozen shrimp, for example, to find exactly where the product came from.
Consumers are loyal to auto body shops, hairdressers, pharmacists and the like, building relationships with them through years of patronage. Building a similar trust-based relationship with a local grocer or fishmonger. A reliable, knowledgeable retailer can be a wealth of information about food origin, quality and safety—talk to whoever is behind your fish counter and get to know their product.
When you’re dining out, take advantage of the knowledge of the staff and ask your servers to share what they know about the seafood on their menu. Most establishments will proudly inform their diners about the premium products on their menus—it justifies the cost of their dishes and it legitimizes their kitchen. So don’t be afraid to ask about the seafood’s origin before you order.