Report Finds Maryland Crab Cakes are Rarely the Real Deal

Published April 01, 2015

Today, Oceana has offered a sobering perspective on a dish long enjoyed and celebrated in the Chesapeake Bay region: the Maryland crab cake.

A study conducted by Oceana found that 38 percent of crab cakes being advertised as locally sourced blue crab were, in fact, composed of imported meat. 

Crab cakes in the Annapolis and Baltimore regions had the highest levels of fraud—47 and 46 percent, respectively. 

Eight-six restaurants in Maryland and Washington, D.C., were sampled in this study. According to the officials at Oceana, “If a crab cake sample was described on the menu or confirmed by the server as ‘blue crab,’ or as sourced from Maryland or the Chesapeake region, but did not contain the blue crab species, it was considered mislabeled.” 

Seafood Fraud’s Serious Implications

Forty years ago, the Chesapeake Bay supplied half of all blue crab caught in the United States. Today, due to environmental degradation and years of overfishing, there’s not enough blue crab in the region to support demand. 

Blue Crab

Nearly half of the species found in Oceana’s tested crab cakes are species to “avoid” on seafood guides, while the Maryland blue crab is considered a “best choice” or “good alternative.” 

Our watermen are the purest form of conservationists in the Bay and the reason why Maryland blue crab is considered a “best choice.” This report demonstrates the direct and immediate need to protect those watermen working diligently for the longevity of the fishery. Traceability standards must be implemented in order to protect this iconic cultural and economic resource that is the backbone of our region.

The lack of transparency throughout the seafood supply chain leads to misinformed restaurants and consumers hoping to support the local economy. Numerous businesses in our region are diligent in their efforts to secure only local, sustainable product. However, without proper mechanisms of checks and balances, there’s little opportunity to ensure 100 percent accuracy.

A Way Forward 

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 1 percent of imported seafood for fraud. Without proper implementation of international and domestic policies supporting traceability, the seafood industry and the health of our ocean is at serious risk. 

The National Aquarium applauds the efforts of hardworking watermen protecting our Bay, our Callinectes sapidus and feeding a nation of seafood lovers. It is now our turn to help them by ensuring that it is their product that makes its way to our dinner plates. 

In March, a presidential task force released an action plan to combat seafood fraud, which includes recommendations to establish a traceability program. The National Aquarium is committed to supporting these efforts to stop these crimes, which provide profit to pirate fishermen, mislead consumers and limit our ability to protect the ocean.

Consumers should feel empowered to ask questions of the restaurants and markets they’re patronizing. To learn more about how to purchase traceable seafood, click here.

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