Volunteers needed to test for fishy fish labelling in Northern grocery stores

Volunteers needed to test for fishy fish labelling in Northern grocery stores

An environmental group is recruiting Northern residents to send in samples of store-bought seafood for testing to determine whether it's been accurately labelled. 

Last summer, Yellowknife's Wildcat Café was caught selling fish from Kazakhstan as Great Slave Lake pickerel.

That kind of mixup, whether accidental or deliberate, is not a rare occurrence in Canada, according to SeaChoice, an environmental group that supports sustainable fishing. 

The problem, it says, is in the labels. 

"There's no real reason that restaurant or retailer should not be able to supply that fish," says Kurtis Hayne, a marine biologist and market analyst at SeaChoice.

Hayne says seafood labels in Canada fall behind other jurisdictions like the European Union. Most Canadian retailers only say where the seafood was last processed and what its common name is.

But many common names, such as "rockfish," can refer to a number of species, and the country in which it was last processed could be around the world from where it actually came from. Retailers don't have to identify whether the seafood was farmed or wild, Hayne says. 

"Right now we're trying to show the problem and inadequacy of Canadian labelling regulations," Hayne said. 

More information for customers

To that end, SeaChoice is recruiting volunteers to trawl for evidence of whether seafood is properly identified.

It's sending out kits to some selected survey respondents, asking people from across the country to buy fish, take a sample, and return the kit to them for analysis. It says volunteers from Nunavut and the N.W.T. have been difficult to find thus far.

Hayne hopes the results can influence the development of new regulations, which the federal government is in the process of modernizing.

He says it's about giving buyers the information to make their own decisions at the grocery store.

"They have to know how it was caught or farmed, where it was caught or farmed, and the exact species name to even start being able to make a responsible choice."

The request for applications closes Friday.