AP In­ves­ti­ga­tion: Lo­cal fish is not al­ways lo­cal

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Robin Mcdow­ell, Margie Ma­son and Martha Mendoza

MON­TAUK, N.Y. » Cater­ers in Wash­ing­ton tweeted a photo of ma­roon sashimi ap­pe­tiz­ers served to 700 guests at­tend­ing the gov­er­nor’s in­au­gu­ral ball last year. They were told the tuna was from Mon­tauk.

But it was an il­lu­sion. It was the dead of win­ter and no yel­lowfin had been landed in the New York town.

An As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion traced the sup­ply chain of na­tional dis­trib­u­tor Sea To Ta­ble to other parts of the world, where fish­er­men de­scribed work­ing un­der slave-like con­di­tions with lit­tle re­gard for ma­rine life.

In a global seafood in­dus­try plagued by de­ceit, con­sci­en­tious con­sumers will pay top dollar for what they be­lieve is lo­cal, sus­tain­ably caught seafood. But even in this fast-growing niche mar­ket, com­pa­nies can hide be­hind murky deal­ings, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to know the story be­hind any given fish.

Sea To Ta­ble said by work­ing di­rectly with 60 docks along U.S. coasts it could guar­an­tee the fish was wild, do­mes­tic and trace­able — some­times to the fish­er­man.

The New York-based com­pany quickly rose in the sus­tain­able seafood move­ment. While it told in­vestors it had $13 mil­lion in sales last year, it ex­pected growth to $70 mil­lion by 2020. The dis­trib­u­tor earned en­dorse­ment from the Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium and gar­nered me­dia at­ten­tion from Bon Ap­petit, Forbes and many more. Its clien­tele in­cluded celebrity chef Rick Bay­less, Roy’s seafood restau­rants, univer­si­ties and home de­liv­ery meal kits such as Hel­loFresh.

As part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion, re­porters staked out Amer­ica’s largest fish mar­ket, fol­lowed trucks and in­ter­viewed fish­er­men who worked on three con­ti­nents. Dur­ing a bonechilling week, they set up a time-lapse cam­era at Mon­tauk harbor that showed no tuna boats dock­ing. The AP also had a chef or­der $500 worth of fish sent “di­rectly from the land­ing dock to your kitchen,” but the boat listed on the re­ceipt hadn’t been there in at least two years.

Pre­lim­i­nary DNA tests sug­gested the fish likely came from the In­dian Ocean or the Western Cen­tral Pa­cific. There are lim­i­ta­tions with the data be­cause us­ing ge­netic mark­ers to de­ter­mine the ori­gins of species is still an emerg­ing science, but ex­perts say the promis­ing new re­search will even­tu­ally be used to help fight il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity in the in­dus­try.

JULIE JACOBSON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sur­rounded by ice, com­mer­cial fish­ing boats are docked in their slips af­ter more than a week’s worth of frigid weather froze the harbor in Lake Mon­tauk in Mon­tauk, N.Y., on Sun­day. Only a few com­mer­cial boats re­main in Mon­tauk harbor dur­ing the win­ter...

JULIE JACOBSON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A tuna im­ported from South Amer­ica sits on a ta­ble wait­ing to be fil­leted at the New Ful­ton Fish Mar­ket in New York on Mon­day. A vast va­ri­ety of fish species from around the world are of­fered for sale here, re­gard­less of the sea­son.

JULIE JACOBSON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fish­mon­gers pre­pare or­ders for buy­ers at the New Ful­ton Fish Mar­ket in New York on Mon­day. The nine-acre re­frig­er­ated ware­house just out­side Man­hat­tan is the sec­ond-largest fa­cil­ity of its kind world­wide, mov­ing mil­lions of pounds of seafood each...

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