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NOAA Law Enforcement Collaborates with Federal Partners and Industry to Discuss Seafood Mislabeling

April 17, 2013

Many stories have been in the news lately about mislabeling of food.  For example, we’ve learned that horse meat has been sold as beef in Europe and at least one retailer here in the United States intentionally mislabeled packaged foods to make them seem healthier. With all the attention this issue is receiving, in March the Northeast Division of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement teamed up with industry members and our federal partners to tell the public what we are doing to prevent mislabeled seafood from ending up on our plates.

“Seafood product substitution and false labeling is a high priority for the Northeast Division, as is maintaining and fostering relationships with industry and the general public through voluntary compliance assistance efforts, outreach, and education events,” said Special Agent in Charge Logan Gregory. “These panel discussions at the International Boston Seafood Show and Maritime Gloucester were perfect opportunities to discuss what we’re doing to tackle seafood fraud throughout the supply chain.”

Special Agent Ross Lane participated in a panel at the International Boston Seafood Show on March 10, along with Steve Wilson, Chief Quality Officer of NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program; Peter Koufopoulos, Chief of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Seafood Processing and Technology Policy Branch; Marcus Asner, a partner with the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP and former U.S. Attorney; Beth Daley, environment reporter for The Boston Globe; and Rob Chandler, production supervisor for Steve Connolly Seafood Co. in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Marcus Asner of the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, Peter Koufopoulos of FDA, Special Agent Ross Lane of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, and Steve Wilson of NOAA’s Office of Seafood Inspection, from left, join Beth Daley of The Boston Globe and Rob Chandler of Steve Connolly Seafood, not pictured, to discuss seafood mislabeling at the International Boston Seafood Show on March 10. Credit: NOAA

This discussion was the second in a three-part series on seafood mislabeling held at the show, and gave members of industry, nonprofits, and state and federal government agencies a chance to explain how they see the problem and how they think it can be solved. About 70 people attended this panel hosted by NOAA.

Two weeks later, Special Agent Dan D’Ambruoso participated in a panel discussion on seafood mislabeling at Maritime Gloucester, in the heart of Gloucester’s fishing community. Beth Daley of The Boston Globe also presented, along with Steve Parkes of Maritime Gloucester. The audience provided thoughtful ideas and questions on how to communicate the issues coming from interested consumers, seafood dealers, and researchers.

Special Agent Daniel D’Ambruoso of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement at a Maritime Gloucester panel discussion on March 28. Credit: NOAA

At both events, Lane and D’Ambruoso discussed how NOAA fights seafood fraud and mislabeling using a two-pronged approach: at the borders and once the product has entered the supply chain. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement investigates mislabeling under the Lacey Act, which makes it unlawful for a person to falsely identify any fish that has been, or is intended to be, imported, sold, purchased, or received from any foreign country, or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. Our work on these cases helps maintain a level playing field for law-abiding fishermen and helps protect consumers.

Agents noted that NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement has been tackling this problem for years, resulting in years of prison time and millions of dollars in fines and restitution for those who try to skirt the system. In one 2011 case, a Massachusetts seafood dealer was sentenced to three months of home confinement and one year of probation and was fined $5,000 for falsely and intentionally labeling frozen pollock fillets from China as cod loins from Canada, and for moving other frozen fillets through interstate commerce and misrepresenting the country of origin.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and the Office of the General Counsel continue to work with our federal and state partners to prevent seafood mislabeling and fraud. A national working group of NOAA special agents and attorneys is determining the most effective next step as we continue to investigate individual cases. If you suspect seafood mislabeling, please report it by calling NOAA’s enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or by emailing

For more information on how NOAA works to prevent seafood mislabeling:

This story was developed by Sheila Jarnes, outreach specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Northeast Division.