The Associated Press is reporting on the sentencing of Seafood Solutions Inc. of Torrance California for mislabeling imported fish. Seafood Solutions was sentenced yesterday to pay $1 million in fines and community service payouts for falsely labeling frozen fish fillets.
Around the summer of 2004, Seafood Solutions began to sell a fish it declared to customs as “ponga.” The fish was actually Pangasius hypophthalmus, a type of catfish. The company labeled the fish as “Paradise Grouper” and “Falcon Baie Grouper.”
The misleading labeling practice continued even after Seafood Solutions was confronted by a wholesaler. A wholesale distributor returned over $400,000 worth of the product because one of their customers mistakenly believed that the fish was grouper. Despite this, Seafood Solutions continued to sell the mislabeled fish without changing the labeling. Between February and April of 2006, nearly $2 million worth of Pangasius fillets were knowingly sold as “Paradise Grouper” and “ponga.”
Seafood Solutions was fined $700,000 and ordered to make a community service donation of $300,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The money will fund projects related to methodologies, databases and other research into the identification of marine organisms. The corporation was also sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to forfeit all remaining inventory of falsely labeled fish and to develop and implement a corporate compliance plan.
Seafood Solutions was convicted in July of 2011 for trafficking in fish in violation of the Lacey Act. Two co-defendants, Chau-Shing (Duke) Lin and Christopher Ragone, also pleaded guilty. Lin, 64, of Rancho Palos Verdes, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Lacey Act and one count of misbranding food. Ragone, 50, of Santa Ana, pleaded guilty to two counts of misbranding food. Lin and Ragone are scheduled to be sentenced on February 13.
Instances of misleading imports will begin to decline as the FDA implements its new PREDICT system. The system can track the number of imports from countries and assess whether the country of origin and product type are as labeled. Mislabeling after a product is imported will rely on whistle-blowers like the wholesaler distributor in this case.
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