Eating Wild-Caught Shrimp? There’s a 30 Percent Chance You’re Not

A new study uncovers the rampant mislabeling of seafood sold in U.S. restaurants and grocery stores—one ‘wild’ shrimp even ended up being an aquarium pet.

(Photo: Mirko Tobias Schaefer/Flickr)

Oct 30, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Between horsemeat hamburgers, oyster imposters, and grape juice concealed in pomegranate bottles, food-fraud stories seem to fill the news cycle as often as we’re filling our bellies with mislabeled goods.

The latest dish best served ignorant? Wild-caught shrimp.

The nonprofit group Oceana tested shrimp sold in the United States to see if the seafood was truthfully labeled. If you thought the type of shrimp you paid for was the type you ended up eating, the results released Thursday aren’t going to be to your taste.

Researchers found that 30 percent of 143 shrimp products they bought in 111 grocery stores across the U.S. were mislabeled.

New York’s restaurants and grocery stores were the worst offenders; 43 percent of shrimp sold as wild-caught were cheap, farm-raised substitutes.

In one instance, a shrimp species more suitable as an aquarium pet was found mixed in with a bag of frozen salad-size shrimp for sale at a market.

“I’ve seen cute little cleaner shrimp in aquariums and while scuba diving, but I never expected to find one on a grocery shelf,” Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana, said in a statement.

Not so shockingly, the study found that zero percent of shrimp labeled “farmed” were mislabeled. So don’t worry; there’s no chance you got a discounted wild shrimp.

Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood item, and since 1980 the United States has ramped up imports from Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Today, 90 percent of shrimp comes from overseas, which makes it hard to track the provenance of your prawns.

“It is almost impossible to know what you are getting,” the study states. “There is very little information provided, and in many cases, the information given about shrimp misrepresents.”

Another study by Oceana found that more than one-third of 1,200 fish samples tested nationwide were mislabeled. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year found that 15 percent of fish sampled from 174 different locations were mislabeled.

The most concealed species? Red snapper.

The Obama administration has announced that it will introduce new regulations to fight seafood fraud by the end of the year. “Traceability and better information available to consumers will help reduce seafood fraud, allow for targeted enforcement, and bring accountability and transparency to the seafood supply chain,” the Oceana study reads.