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Wholesaler, Legal design fish labels to ease tracking

New bar codes will help buyers trace source from boat to kitchen

Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz testified in January at a hearing on fish mislabeling at the State House.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Agar Supply, New England’s largest independent food distributor, has partnered with Legal Sea Foods to launch a new label that will allow restaurants and supermarkets to track fresh fish all along the supply chain.

Legal Sea Foods’ wholesale division, Nor’Easter, will supply nearly all of the fresh fish marketed under Agar’s “Nautifish’’ brand, including haddock, cod, salmon, and tuna. Nor’Easter is creating a bar code label on each package that will include details such as when the seafood was caught, the name of the boat and captain, the region where the fish was caught, and when it was prepared for packaging.

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“Seafood can sometimes be an underhanded business, and we have a commitment to truth in marketing,’’ said Karen S. Bressler, chief executive of Agar Supply. “The restaurants don’t always know what they’re getting. There may be companies selling fresh haddock that might have previously been frozen and they don’t tell restaurants. We want to let restaurants know exactly what they’re buying as consumers demand more information.’’

The recent attention to seafood labeling, packaging, and overall quality in Massachusetts prompted Agar Supply, which moves millions of pounds of seafood each year through its plant in Taunton, to increase its focus on traceability. The results of a five-month Globe investigation published last fall revealed extensive mislabeling at restaurants across the state, including repeated instances in which restaurants advertised previously frozen seafood from the Pacific as fresh, locally caught fish.

Agar, which provides seafood to about 5,000 supermarkets, restaurants, and institutions across the region, launched the labeling program with Nor’Easter about three weeks ago. Trained seafood professionals follow the fish from the moment it is caught through the process of cutting and packing until it makes its way to Agar Supply and, ultimately, to restaurants and stores. Each catch is kept separately inside Nor’Easter’s facility in South Boston, and the bins they are stored in are marked with bar codes, allowing workers to track each species of fish, according to Agar.

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“I’m very pleased to be partnering with Agar, a company that shares our high standards, to bring the freshest, highest quality fish to market,’’ Roger Berkowitz, chief executive of Legal Sea Foods, said in a statement.


Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.