Alaska Sea Grant helps prevent seafood fraud

November 22, 2017

salmon in plastic box Chinook salmon

Seafood fraud is rampant in the United States. According to a report released by Oceana last year, one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested worldwide was mislabeled.

Oceana says it looked at more than 200 published studies from 55 countries. The report found seafood fraud present in each investigation with only one exception.

Salmon was mislabeled seven percent of the time and the highest rates of mislabeling were in sushi venues.

This past summer Alaska Sea Grant’s Quentin Fong was tapped to collect Alaska fish species for protein profiling, in an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help protect US domestic commercial fisheries.

Fong shipped filet samples of seven fish species to the NOAA National Seafood Inspection Laboratory, where scientists are developing a method for protein pattern matching as a more rapid alternative to DNA testing for species differences. 

man smilingQuentin Fong, seafood marketing specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Working with Alaska Pacific Seafoods, a processing company in Kodiak, Fong acquired five salmon species—king, silver, sockeye, chum and pink—as well as Alaska pollock and Pacific cod. According to a sampling protocol, he collected 10 fish of each species, photographed the fish, trimmed out the required filets, vacuum-sealed and froze them, and sent whole fish and filets to the lab in Mississippi.

Fong’s sampling is part of an effort to gather a nationwide, comprehensive seafood database.

John Kaneko, of the Hawaii Seafood Council, had the contract to acquire 100 seafood market species for the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory. He oversaw collection of finfish and shellfish species from the Atlantic Coast, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast to Alaska and the Central Pacific (Hawaii). Some imported products were collected, as well as wild and farm raised species, said Kaneko.

“Quentin Fong and Chris Sannito helped me by collecting the fish. Being in Kodiak, they were in a position to collect these species over a longer period of time and before they were processed,” he said.

Jon Bell, director of the NOAA NSIL lab in Mississippi, said they are in the early stages of developing the protein pattern method.

“It is rapid and inexpensive. It just uses water to do the extraction. You don’t use any of the chemicals that are necessary in DNA analysis. But it is not nearly as specific as DNA,” said Bell.

“The goal of this program is to address commonly substituted seafood species, which are white fish,” he said. “We will also see if our species identification method will be useful for things like salmon.”

Bell and his colleagues have published their method in the Journal of AOAC International

— By Sue Keller

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.