Tuna Species Substitution in the Spanish Commercial Chain: A Knock-On Effect

PLoS One. 2017 Jan 26;12(1):e0170809. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0170809. eCollection 2017.

Abstract

Intentional mislabelling of seafood is a widespread problem, particularly with high-value species like tuna. In this study we examine tuna mislabelling, deliberate species substitution, types of substitution and its impact on prices. The survey covered the commercial chain, from Merca-Barna to fishmongers and restaurants in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Catalonia. To understand the geographic extent of the problem we also sampled Merca-Madrid, Europe's biggest fish market, and Merca-Málaga for its proximity to the bluefin tuna migratory route and trap fishery. Monthly surveys were carried out over one year. The results showed a high deficiency in labelling: 75% of points of sale and 83% of restaurants did not specify the species, and in those cases the name of the species had to be asked. A total of 375 samples were analysed genetically, the largest dataset gathered in Europe so far. The identified species were Thunnus albacares, Thunnus thynnus and Thunnus obesus. Species substitution began at suppliers, with 40% of observed cases, increasing to 58% at fishmongers and 62% at restaurants. The substitution was mainly on bluefin tuna (T. thynnus), 73% of cases. At restaurants, only during the bluefin fishing season, we observed a decrease of Bluefin tuna substitution and an increase of reverse substitution revealing some illegal fishing. The effect of species substitution on species prices was relevant: T. obesus increased its price by around €12 kg-1 when it was sold as bluefin. In view of the deficiency of labelling, the abuse of generic names and the lack of the bluefin catch document, we conclude that the Spanish regulations are ineffective, highlighting the need for policy execution, and the urgent need for information campaigns to Spanish consumers.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fisheries
  • Food Analysis*
  • Food Labeling / ethics*
  • Fraud / economics*
  • Fraud / prevention & control
  • Seafood / analysis*
  • Seafood / economics
  • Spain
  • Tuna

Grant support

The study was funded by the Balfegó Group under a programme of scientific cooperation with the Blanes Centre for Advanced Study (CEAB – CSIC). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.