Are You Eating Seafood Caught Legally?

Black market seafood makes you wonder which restaurants you can really trust. With the recent bust in New Zealand, we are all reminded that unsafe practices do happen in the seafood industry. When it comes to sushi and raw fish, you need to be especially vigilant.


A recent case in New Zealand is just the latest instance of black market seafood sold in a restaurant. We will not release the name of the restaurateur who just admitted to three charges relating to crayfish sourced illegally. But what comes as a shock is that the perpetrator has been in the restaurant business for years. It isn’t just up a coming restaurant owners that resort to selling black market seafood. It can be owners who have worked in the industry for decades cementing a solid reputation with their clientele.

The recent case is not the only one from New Zealand this year. In September of 2016, two men were caught in an undercover sting and fined $20,000 in New Zealand for buying black market fish. This is not one isolated incident but a potentially worrisome trend.

Think seafood fraud only a problem in NZ? Think again

2010 was a record year for the states, when a $7 million dollar bust uncovered massive striped bass black market. Illegally caught fish are all over the world, and it is not hard to see why. Whenever money is involved, people are going to cheat, steal, and work around the edges. And now, in 2022 it is believed that up to 30% of seafood is caught by “seafood pirates.”

Why do restaurants serve fish caught outside regulations?

It comes down to one consideration. Price. When you buy fish from recreational fishers rather than a licensed source, you can get it for a third of the price. In the cutthroat restaurant industry where profit margins are slim, this can be irresistible.

But we have regulations for a reason. When you go to a restaurant, you want to know you are protected by your government’s food and safety regulations. With black market fish, you are trusting the restaurant owner’s judgement on where the fish originates from and if it is safe. Is that a risk you want to be taking with sushi? Not me.

Improperly sourced seafood showcases the need for trust

For sushi lovers, black market seafood is a matter of safety. Eating raw fish carries an extra level of risk when you compare it to eating cooked fish. The existence of black market seafood in the restaurant industry is very troubling for sushi lovers. It showcases the need to trust the sushi restaurants that you go to. So how do you decide where to eat? We have a guide to choosing a sushi restaurant for exactly this question.

Warren Ransom

I have always been fascinated by the creation and culture of different foods, particularly sushi and sashimi in the modern era of Japanese cuisine. I am a classically trained chef and sushi connoisseur, also having operated a food service company and enjoy investigating and experimenting with food around the world.

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