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Seafood labeling and enforcement in the United States

The United States consumes far more imported than domestically-caught seafood. Imports grew from 54% of total seafood consumed in 1995 to 94% last year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The billions of pounds of imported seafood often involve fraud and mislabeling yet are rarely inspected. There are 93 NOAA special agents who investigate civil and criminal cases of black market fishing. Although they often partner with NOAA patrol and other federal and state officers, staffing reductions have strained agents’ capability to investigate complex cases.


Related: Seafood fraud cases plummet as NOAA cuts investigators

Agent locations and volume

Key: Pounds of seafood 2013 (imported edible seafood and U.S. commercial landings)
Over 1 billion
500 million - 1 billion
100 - 500 million
50 - 100 million
10 - 50 million
Less than 10 million

Location of agents


Imports and Inspections


Commonly mislabeled seafood

The conservation group Oceana found high levels of species substitution in restaurants, grocery stores and sushi venues it sampled in a 2013 study.

NOAA Enforcement Cases

Overall, civil and criminal cases have decreased as the number of investigative agents has declined.

* NOAA would investigate interior freshwater fish when they are caught illegally and transported or sold in the interstate or foreign commerce. Otherwise, such fish fall under the states and U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service jurisdictions. Not shown: 1 agent each in American Samoa, Aquadilla, PR and Guam.

SOURCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Government Accountability Office, Marine Policy, Oceana

Baltimore Sun graphic by Adam Marton

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