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A plaintiff has filed a lawsuit alleging Bumble Bee Foods’ Medium Red Smoked Salmon Fillet in Oil is neither medium red wild coho salmon nor smoked. Rodriguez v. Bumble Bee Foods Inc., No. 17-2447 (S.D. Cal., filed December 6, 2017). The complaint asserts that the term “medium red” is commonly used to describe wild coho salmon, which is often fished in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and that the product label shows an image of a salmon “jumping from water with snow-capped mountains and evergreens in background, which is evocative of Alaska.” The salmon used in Bumble Bee’s product, the plaintiff argues, is “low-quality” farm-raised Chilean coho salmon dyed red to resemble wild-caught fish. The complaint alleges Bumble Bee discloses that the company’s oyster and smoked trout products are farm-raised but omits the farm-raised disclosure on the salmon product. In addition, the complaint alleges the salmon is not smoked but rather…

Following the collapse of a salmon farm, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has asked recreational fishers to help catch as many Atlantic salmon as possible. Cooke Aquaculture cited "exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week's solar eclipse" as the cause of the damage, which released an unknown number of farm-bred Atlantic salmon into the Pacific Ocean. Initial estimates were that about 5,000 fish escaped, but a Cooke spokesperson reportedly told the Seattle Times that the entire farm, which contained more than 300,000 fish, had “totally collapsed.” See Seattle Times, August 24, 2017.   Issue 645

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a bill that would require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) salmon and independent scientific review of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's environmental assessment of GE fish produced for human consumption. “The primary purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when they are purchasing salmon. There’s a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing—and I want to make sure folks are aware of that," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a July 14, 2017, press release. "I will not accept that this ‘fake fish’ will be sold in stores without clear labeling.”   Issue 641

The owner of one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the United States has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, falsifying federal records, cash smuggling and tax evasion in a case accusing him of deliberately misreporting the types of fish he caught to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). U.S. v. Rafael, No. 16­-10124 (D. Mass, plea entered March 30, 2017). Carlos Rafael, owner of Carlos Seafood, Inc. and known as the “Codfather,” will face possible forfeiture of his business assets and up to five years in prison at his June 2017 sentencing. An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigation apparently found that Rafael caught 800,000 pounds of fish over several years and reported it as haddock, pollock or other species with high NOAA quotas despite containing thousands of pounds of fish with lower quotas, including cod, flounder, grey sole, yellowtail and American plaice. Rafael also told IRS agents posing as…

A California court held that Bumble Bee Foods, LLC did not act illegally by claiming its tuna was an “excellent source” of omega-­3 fatty acids despite a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to prohibit the practice. Garrett v. Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, No. 14-­264322 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Santa Clara Cty., order entered March 30, 2017). The plaintiffs alleged Bumble Bee began making the omega­-3 claim in 2008, one year after FDA published its proposed rule, but the court found that Bumble Bee ended the claim after the rule was finalized in April 2014. “The fact that Bumble Bee engaged in conduct that was proscribed by a ‘proposed’ rule does not make it unlawful or illegal,” the court said. Bumble Bee began using the omega-­3 claim after a supplement maker notified FDA in 2005 that it intended to use an omega-­3 nutrient content claim on its product labels. Because…

Three environmental and conservation advocacy groups have moved to intervene in a lawsuit filed by a group of seafood processing, distribution and retail companies to block implementation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. Alfa Int’l Seafood, Inc. v. Sullivan, No. 17-­0031 (D.D.C., motion filed March 7, 2017). Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity are asking to defend the oversight program, known as the Seafood Traceability Rule, which gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration power over stringent reporting and recordkeeping of fish catches, vessel and species identification, names of buyers and other chain-­of-­custody information. The National Marine Fisheries Service published the rule in December 2016 to combat U.S. imports of seafood alleged to be the product of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, along with fraudulent practices such as mislabeling of species.   Issue 627

A California-based seafood company has reportedly been sentenced in federal court for knowingly selling mislabeled frozen fish fillets. United States v. Seafood Solutions, Inc., No. 11-297 (C.D. Cal., sentencing February 6, 2012). Seafood Solutions, Inc. agreed to plead guilty to the charge in July 2011, as part of a federal investigation into companies that had been selling Asian catfish imports under other labels to avoid anti-dumping duties. Under the terms of the agreement, the company was fined $700,000 and will pay an additional $300,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Two California men also pleaded guilty in connection with the scam and are apparently scheduled for sentencing on February 12, 2012. See Law360, February 7, 2012.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has denied a February 9, 2012, petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that requested “a performance standard of non-detectable as determined by the best available method of detection for Vibrio vulnificus in molluscan shellfish intended for raw or processed raw consumption.” Citing V. vulnificus as “the leading cause of seafood-associated deaths in the United States,” the petition notes that FDA already enforces a zero tolerance standard for V. vulnificus in ready-to-eat fish and a non-detectable standard of less than 30 most probable numbers per gram (MPN/g) for post-harvest processed shellfish. According to CSPI, the Food Safety Modernization Act directs the agency to set performance standards for significant foodborne contaminants. In rejecting the petition, FDA notes that other strategies—including state adherence to and federal oversight of control measures designed to manage V. vulnificus risk—have effectively reduced oyster-associated V.…

Walter Scott Cameron, a former senior vice president of sales at Bumble Bee Foods, LLC has pleaded guilty to combination and conspiracy to fix, raise and maintain the prices of packaged seafood, including canned tuna. U. S. v. Cameron, No. 16-CR-0501 (N.D. Cal., information filed December 7, 2016). The criminal information accuses Cameron of conspiring with other seafood companies to fix prices of seafood sold in the United States. "Today’s charge is the first to be filed in the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into price fixing among some of the largest suppliers of canned tuna and other packaged seafood,” said an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in a December 7, 2016, press release. “All consumers deserve competitive prices for these important kitchen staples, and companies and executives who cheat those consumers will be held criminally accountable.”   Issue 625

A California federal court has denied Vigo Importing Co.’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the company mislabels its products as containing octopus when they are actually composed of jumbo squid. Fonseca v. Vigo Importing Co., No. 16-2055 (N.D. Cal., order entered October 26, 2016). Vigo Importing sought to dismiss the claim on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that based on its sales figures, the amount in controversy could not possibly meet the $5 million threshold required by the Class Action Fairness Act to allow a federal court to consider the case. The court disagreed, noting that the sales price was only part of the calculation; the potential damages determination requires information on the cost of the products as well as the value of the product if composed of jumbo squid. Details on the complaint appear in Issue 602 of this Update.   Issue 621

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