Specious seafood / Petered-out pitching

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) aka "Chilean sea bass" [Wikimedia Commons]

Today: Osita Nwanevu, a contributing editor at The New Republic and columnist at The Guardian; and Tom Scocca, editor at INDIGNITY.

Issue No. 92

What Murky Depths Produced Your Fish Dinner?
Osita Nwanevu

The Closer at the End
Tom Scocca

What Murky Depths Produced Your Fish Dinner?

by Osita Nwanevu

When I tell people I live in Baltimore, they tend to ask me about two things⁠—The Wire, which is good, and the seafood, which is fine. Make no mistake: there is excellent seafood in Baltimore. But I don’t know that there’s more of it than you’d find in any other major city on the East Coast. And I’m told you’ll find the really good stuff, which I’ve yet to trek out for, in the smaller towns and communities ringing the Chesapeake. Usually when I say this, people start asking about the crabs. Let me tell you about the crabs. 

As of 2017, the majority of the crabs consumed in Maryland⁠—at times sold to consumers as “Maryland blue crabs’’—were imported from outside the state. Restaurants are required by law to disclose where their steamed crabs are from, but there’s no such regulation on crab meat; there, state authorities and the state’s crabbing industry have come up with an opt-in certification process. Prove that the meat in your crab cakes is from Maryland, and you get designated as a “True Blue” restaurant, which comes with a nifty little seal. Almost no one in Baltimore has done this. 

In 2015, the nonprofit Oceana conducted DNA tests on a sample of crab cakes from 86 restaurants in Maryland and Washington, D.C.. In 38 percent of the samples, the origins of their meat were mislabeled. In Baltimore, the mislabeling rate was 46 percent. Factor in the restaurants that don’t even claim that they’re serving you Maryland crab meat, and chances are that when you’re served a crab cake in this town, it’s not intrinsically different from a crab cake you’d be able to order elsewhere—thanks largely to overfishing and pollution in the Chesapeake, it’s likely that the crab on your plate is from either another state or another country. 

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