One out of three fish served in Brussels is not what consumers pay for

Press Release Date: November 3, 2015

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

DNA analysis conducted by Oceana shows widespread consumer deceit, including EU institutions’ canteens in which 38% of seafood tested was mislabeled

Bluefin tuna, sole and cod are substituted by species up to 40% cheaper

Brussels, 3rd November.- Oceana has disclosed research showing that, on average, 30% of seafood served in Brussels restaurants did not correspond to the species ordered by the consumer. The DNA identification analysis was performed by the Catholic University of Leuven, after over 280 samples were gathered in more than 150 restaurants and EU institutions. Seafood fraud, widespread mislabeling and fraudulent practices cheats consumers and can often involve illegal or unsustainable fishing products.

“DNA tests shows widespread seafood fraud in Brussels restaurants and even in official EU venues. Consumers are cheated and the door is left wide open to the laundering of illegal fishing products”, explains Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “The EU needs to clean up its fishy business, take responsibility and urgently improve traceability and labelling of seafood.”

Too cheap to be true

Key findings of Oceana’s study reveals that economic reasons are the main driver behind the seafood fraud, resulting in consumer deception. Expensive species, such as cod or sole, sold for as much as 30 or 40 euros per dish, can be substituted by cheap, farmed Pangasius. The top 3 fraudulent species found are:

  • In 95% of cases; costly bluefin tuna was sold as bigeye tuna or yellowfin tuna – both cheaper tropical tuna species.
  • In 11% of cases; common sole was substituted for another  cheaper flatfish species.
  • In 13% of cases; cod was substituted for one of seven different species; most often being Pangasius or saithe.

In addition, Oceana has discovered that 38% of fish served in EU institution canteens to decision-makers (EU Parliament, EU Commission) is a different than what was ordered.

“The first step for EU decision-makers is to realise that this is a EU-wide problem and they, as consumers themselves, are just as vulnerable as the rest of us. As EU fish resources become scarcer due to overexploitation, the market demand is becoming satisfied with imported products or cheaper substitutes, deceiving consumers”, added Gustavsson. 

Technical data

  • Samples collected by Oceana researchers in touristic and EU districts of Brussels between March and June 2015.
  • 280 samples compiled (217 from restaurants, 42 from EU canteens and 21 from sushi bars).
  • DNA extraction and identification was done by Biogenomics (Catholic University of Leuven) through DNA mitochondrial marker, known as the “COI barcoding method”.
  • The marker was then checked against the BOLD database, which has more than 11,000 fish species recorded
  • 197 samples were identified to the species level, 80 samples to the genus level and 3 samples did not match any record in the database.
  • Overall, 36 different species detected through testing.

This work is made possible by a generous grant from Oceans 5 and the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation

Fact sheet: Seafood fraud in the heart of Europe

Scientific paper: Seafood substitution and mislabeling in Brussels’ restaurants and canteens