AP Investigation: Local fish is not always local
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.
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...
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.
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...