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Authorities Seek Tougher Penalties For False Labeling Of Fish

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - When you order that special filet at a restaurant or store, you're often going on trust that the fish actually is what the menu or label says it is. In Washington, two state agencies are asking for tougher penalties to deter seafood fraud.

Investigators for Consumer Reports recently found more than one-fifth of the fish they submitted for DNA identification was mislabeled at the point of sale.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police deputy chief Mike Cenci says the penalties for false labeling need to be stronger.

"The most I could do for a first-time offender -- regardless of the scale of fraud -- would be to write them up for $200," Cenci says. "That person is laughing all the way to the bank."

Cenci testified at the Washington Legislature in favor of making bigger cases of fraud a gross misdemeanor and threatening the worst offenders with felony prosecution.

This would be more in line with the current penalties Oregon's state police and Department of Agriculture can levy. In Olympia, several fishing and seafood processing groups spoke in favor of putting teeth into the law to support consumer confidence.

On the Web:

SB5037/HB 1200: Seafood labeling bill (Washington Legislature)
Reeling In Fishy Business At The Seafood Counter - October 23, 2011

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.