Washington Chefs Join Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pépin, and More in Fight Against Seafood Fraud

A national campaign to end mislabeling finds a lot of local support.

By: Anna Spiegel

Nearly 60 chefs and restaurant owners from the District, Maryland, and Virginia have signed on to a letter that calls for an end to seafood fraud and the implementation of improved traceability systems in the US market. The petition, led by National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver, is part of an ongoing campaign by Oceana to end the mislabeling, misrepresentation, and illegal exchange of seafood products.

While certain kinds of fish fraud happen knowingly on the restaurant level—when a cook swaps out local crabmeat for the cheaper Asian product to save money on those “Maryland crabcakes,” say—but in many cases, it’s the chefs themselves who are being misled. Whether it’s the fisherman, the distributor, or the packaging plant doing the mislabeling, plenty of toques—and, as a result, customers—are duped into thinking they’re purchasing one kind of seafood when it’s actually a cheaper and lesser product.

“As chefs and restaurant owners, their reputation is dependent on the food they serve,” says Oceana’s campaign director, Beth Lowell. “We suspected that chefs and restaurants would be natural allies in our efforts to require traceability in the seafood supply chain to ensure that the food they serve is safe, legal, and honestly labeled.”

Joining the current nationwide list of 500 chef-advocates such as Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, and Daniel Boulud are many well-known locals, including Jeff Black, Cathal Armstrong, Todd Gray, Kyle Bailey, Jamie Leeds, Carla Hall, and more. The issue is gaining increasing attention in Washington—earlier this year The Office actress Angela Kinsey traveled to the Hill to lobby on behalf of Oceana. Given the popularity of seafood-centric restaurants in the area and the city’s widespread battle with local versus “local” crabmeat, look for more Washington names to join the list.