Feeling like seafood today? Why not order up some Chesapeake Bay Blue crab cakes with a side of Beluga caviar aioli and a squeeze of organic Meyer lemon?
I know—you would never dare sully your plate with the pedestrian crab found in your standard freezer aisle. No run-of-the-mill, hobo-of-the-sea crab is going down your gullet. That $27 price tag for two crab cakes the size of silver dollars on a bed of limp arugula surely serves as insurance that this lump meat was sourced only from Chesapeake Bay's best and bluest.
That is, until you do a little digging, as environmental organization Oceana recently did, and discover that there's a very, very significant likelihood that your crabs are those filthy, regular red ones. The horror, friends, the horror.
A whopping 38 percent of crab cakes sold in the Chesapeake Bay area and claiming to be made of prized Chesapeake Bay Blue crab meat are actually made with cheaper crab sourced from as far away as Indonesia, Oceana says. In some areas, that number is even higher, with 46 percent of crab cakes in Baltimore being mislabeled, 47 percent in Annapolis, Maryland, and 39 percent in Washington, DC.
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On top of that, many of the imported species used in these cakes are sourced from overseas fisheries with unsustainable methods and questionable business practices. Diners likely think that they're eating fresh catch purchased from happy local fishermen, when in actuality they're chewing on breaded Indonesian mud crabs trawled from mass aquaculture farms in a third-world country with shaky human rights policies.
And putting aside all of the ethics of eating imported seafood from places of indeterminate origin, the gist is that you're getting ripped off. Because as we all know, a crab cake isn't free.
It should come as no huge surprise that crab is frequently counterfeited, especially in the wake of several recent studies and exposés that have shown the same inconsistency and fraud in the fish and shrimp industries. In 2013, another Oceana report found that roughly a third of fish and shrimp in the US is mislabeled and insufficient in meet the FDA's requirements. That same year, other studies found that red snapper is mislabeled in New York City at a rate of 78 percent, while Consumer Reports found that 90 percent of supposedly wild-caught salmon fillets were mislabeled.
Seafood fraud is widespread enough that a single regional variety of crab cakes is hardly the biggest problem in the industry. But if you're on vacay in Maryland and are surprised to see some Chesapeake Bay Blues hanging out in a Benedict on the menu of a dingy diner, think twice about whether you're really getting your money's worth.