Mislabelling and high mercury content hampers the efforts of market-based seafood initiatives in Peru
Peru is experiencing a “gastronomic boom” that is increasing the demand for seafood. We investigated two implicit assumptions of two popular sustainable seafood consumer-based initiatives: (1) seafood is labelled correctly, and (2) the recommended species are healthy for consumers. We used DNA barcoding to determine the taxonomic identity of 449 seafood samples from markets and restaurants and analysed the concentration of total mercury (THg) in a sub-sample (271 samples) of these. We found that a third of seafood is mislabelled and that over a quarter of all samples had mercury levels above the upper limit recommended by the US EPA (300 ng/g ww). Additionally, 30% of samples were threatened and protected species. Mislabelling often occurred for economic reasons and the lack of unique common names. Mislabelled samples also had significantly higher mercury concentrations than correctly labelled samples. The “best choice” species compiled from two sustainable seafood guides had less mislabelling, and when identified correctly through DNA barcoding, had on average lower mercury than the other species. Nevertheless, some high mercury species are included in these lists. Mislabelling makes the efforts of seafood campaigns less effective as does the inclusion of threatened species and species high in mercury.