When a consumer buys a 1.5-pound bag of a fish at the supermarket, it’s only reasonable to expect that it contains a pound and a half of fish. Yet as the Globe reported Sunday, some companies that supply frozen fish are coating their products with so much ice that shoppers end up with much less fish than they pay for. But the problem is fixable. State and federal regulators who enforce labeling requirements shouldn’t allow as much variation between packages, and should crack down on repeat violators.
The Globe found that about 1 in 5 samples of ice-glazed fish from local supermarkets yielded less fish than what the label specified. That was somewhat better than statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says it finds economic fraud in at least 40 percent of seafood products voluntarily submitted for testing.
Overglazing may indeed be, as some fish suppliers suggest, a common issue in the industry, yet the Globe’s tests indicate some companies have more problems than others. Two-thirds of samples of frozen fish from Henry Gonsalves Co. of Smithfield, R.I., were under the stated weight. Eastern Fisheries of New Bedford, the world’s largest processor of scallops, supplied Walmart with packages labeled 16 ounces, but that contained only 13 ounces of the shellfish. Scallops are normally 75 percent water when fished. But at Walmart, they were 91 percent water.
If these were just one-time mistakes, they would be more understandable. But in 2010, Eastern Fisheries was fined $14,000 for distributing underweight sole in Wisconsin, and Gonsalves was fined $3,870 for having too much ice glaze on products in Connecticut. These issues are all the more striking because the Globe found that another supplier, High Liner Foods USA of Danvers, accurately labeled the weight of fish. If it can do so, there is no excuse for others.
The Globe’s latest report is another major credibility hit for the industry, coming on top of last year’s revelations that some wholesalers, grocery stores, and restaurants pass off cheap fish for expensive fish. Seafood consumer protection bills are floating around in Congress, and the charging of fishy prices for icy water should result in much stiffer federal fines for fraud and resources for more routine and thorough investigations.