Last fall, a Hampton Roads seafood processor pleaded guilty to mislabeling millions of dollars of foreign crab meat as Chesapeake Blue Crab. The federal investigation found James Casey falsely labeled and sold almost 400,000 pounds of crab meat after mixing local crab with crab from Asia, Central America, and South America.
According to Oceana, seafood fraud is pervasive and a growing problem.
The current Seafood Import Monitoring Program tracks fish to the U.S. border, but she said most of the tracking stops there. She said consumers need a better grasp on where foreign crab is shipped or potentially repackaged, with that information readily available to the buyer.
Oceana used DNA testing for a 2015 study into the mislabeling of Chesapeake Blue Crab. Testers can tell which region of the world a crab is from by surveying the meat.
LeeAnn Applewhite, CEO of Applied Food Technologies, said 80 percent of the crab her company receives for testing is either mixed or mislabeled.
Even the regulators share the concern of local watermen. Virginia Marine Police officers patrol the Chesapeake Bay and enforce commercial fishing regulations. Many know the crabbers on a first-name basis, and the officers check to make sure the fishermen are catching crabs that are large enough to harvest.
When seafood processors mix foreign crab with local crab the consumer won’t know what’s fresh, what’s expired, or what’s contaminated.
Waterman note that consumers can make one of the biggest differences just by insisting on pure Chesapeake Blue Crab and stores and restaurants.