seabass fish

European efforts to combat fish fraud appear to be working, with a sharp reduction in mislabelled products on sale in supermarkets, according to a new study.

As a relatively expensive protein, seafood has always been a prime target for fraudsters - with previous European studies suggesting up to 40% of fish and seafood products on sale in supermarkets and fishmongers were labelled with the wrong species.

But new research published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment today (1 December) concluded there has been a “marked and sudden” reduction in mislabelling.

In what was the largest multi-species DNA survey of fish to date, scientists from six European countries DNA tested 1,563 products on sale across 19 cities and found just 4.9% of samples were mislabelled.

The research team, led by Stefano Mariani, professor of conservation genetics at the University of Salford, concluded this “surprising” reduction was the result of tougher laws, improved consumer awareness and better self-regulation by the seafood industry.

“Genetic identification methods have progressively exposed the inadequacies of the seafood supply chain, raising awareness among the public, and serving as a warning to industry that malpractice will be detected,” said Mariani.

“This evidence indicates we are now on the road to greater transparency, which should help the management of exploited stocks worldwide.”

DNA testing was conducted on fresh, frozen and tinned products labelled as cod, tuna, haddock, plaice, sole, swordfish, anchovy, hake and monkfish on sale in supermarkets, fishmongers and traditional markets in European cities in 2013 and 2014.

Researchers found total of 77 mislabelled products (4.9%), with anchovy the most commonly mislabelled (15.5%) followed by hake (11.1%) and tuna (6.8%).

The UK had the second-lowest rate of incorrect labelling (3.3%), beaten only by France (2.7%). Spain had the highest rate (8.9%), followed by Portugal (6.7%), Germany (6.2%) and Ireland (3.9%).

The study was part of the EU’s Labelfish project, which is supported by the EU Atlantic Area Programme and Defra.