Widespread Mislabeling of Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Sold in DC and Maryland, Oceana Finds

Every city tested by Oceana was guilty of mislabeling

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

While the real Chesapeake Bay blue crab is sustainably sourced, half of the imposters were considered among the most unsustainable species, according to seafood guides.

A new investigative study published by Oceana has found widespread mislabeling of Chesapeake Bay blue crab sold in restaurants throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Out of 90 crab cakes purchased from 86 local restaurants, DNA testing of the samples indicated that 38 percent was mislabeled as Maryland’s ubiquitous blue crab, and instead contained imported substitutes, the majority of which were obtained through unsustainable fishing practices.

Mislabeled crab cakes were discovered in every city tested, and made up 47 percent of samples in Annapolis, 46 percent in Baltimore, and 39 percent in Washington, D.C. Crab cakes were considered to be mislabeled if they were described on the menu or confirmed by the server as containing blue crab or as sourced from Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay region, but were comprised of completely different crab species.

Among Oceana’s key findings, researchers discovered eight species other than blue crab in common use, including species from the Indo-Pacific region (44 percent) and the Mexican Pacific coast (4 percent). Oceana notes, “Nearly half of the species found in the crab cakes we tested are listed as species to ‘avoid’ on seafood guides, while the real Maryland blue crab is considered a ‘best choice’ or ‘good alternative,’ depending on where and how it was caught.”

“When diners purchase a Maryland crab cake, they don’t expect to get an imported substitute,” Beth Lowell, Oceana’s senior campaign director, said in a statement. “This type of fraud, species substitution, inflates the price for consumers, parades imported and sometimes illegally caught crab as local, prevents consumers from making sustainable seafood choices, and harms the livelihoods of local watermen and seafood businesses.”

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