If you follow food news, you know that seafood fraud is a massive global problem. In 2016, I covered a report that one-fifth of the fish you eat probably isn't what you think it is. In 2017, we wrote about how nearly half the sushi tested at restaurants in L.A. was mislabeled. In 2018, I wrote about how over 25 percent of seafood checked at New York grocery stores was mislabeled. (You see a pattern here?) And yet, despite attempted solutions like testing devices, databases, and even congressional intervention, the problem hasn't gotten much better. In fact, an update this year on the 2016 study found that, yup, about one-fifth of seafood wasn't what it was supposed to be.
It's easy to imagine that this fraud is happening in some faraway fishing port, but as a recent announcement from the Department of Justice proves, this kind of thing is happening right here in the U.S., too. Earlier this week, Phillip R. Carawan — former owner, president, and CEO of the North Carolina-based supplier Capt. Neill's Seafood — pled guilty to having his company falsely label over 179,872 pounds of foreign crabmeat worth more than $4 million as "Product of USA" blue crab from at least 2012 to 2015. Most of this meat was then sold at wholesale clubs.
The Department of Justice said that this case is part of a larger effort to prosecute companies who mislabel crabmeat. "Seafood mislabeling is consumer fraud that undermines efforts of hardworking, honest fisherman and the free market by devaluing the price of domestic seafood," Acting U.S. Attorney G. Norman Acker III for the Eastern District of North Carolina said in a statement. "In this case, the fraudulent scheme artificially deflated the cost of domestic blue crab and gave Carawan an unacceptable economic advantage over law-abiding competitors."
The DoJ states that the sentence for falsely labeling crabmeat can be up to five years in prison and a fine of up to twice the gross gain of the offense, which in this case, is $8,165,682. Sentencing for Carawan will take place in January.