Seafood executive admits to mislabeling blue crab as “Product of USA”

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An executive with a North Carolina, U.S.A.-based seafood processor pleaded guilty in federal court as falsely labeling blue crabmeat worth at least USD 250,000 (EUR 212,000) as a product of the United States.

Jeffrey A. Styron, treasurer of the corporate board of officers for Garland F. Fulcher Seafood Co. in Oriental, North Carolina, pleaded guilty on 3 September of directing employees to falsely label crabmeat.

As part of his guilty plea, Styron admitted that he and his company could not process sufficient quantities of domestic blue crab to meet customer demands, so they purchased crabmeat from South America and Asia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina said in a press release.

From early 2014 through the end of 2017, Styron directed the company’s employees to repack foreign crabmeat into containers labeled “Product of USA.”

Fulcher sold the crabmeat to both retail and restaurant customers as “backfin,” “claw,” “lump,” “jumbo lump,” or “special,” domestically-harvested blue crab meat.

“Seafood fraud undermines the economic viability of U.S. and global fisheries, deceives consumers, and threatens the health of those who consume tainted or misidentified seafood products,” Chris Oliver, assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, said in a press release.

Styron is scheduled to be sentenced on 7 December, 2020.

The case was part of an ongoing effort by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, in coordination with the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Justice to “detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the false labeling of crabmeat,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.

“Seafood mislabeling is consumer fraud that undermines efforts of hardworking, honest fisherman and the free market by devaluing the price of domestic seafood,” U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. for the Eastern District of North Carolina said.  “In this case, the fraudulent scheme artificially deflated the cost of domestic blue crab and gave Styron and Garland Fulcher Seafood an unacceptable and unfair economic advantage over law-abiding competitors.”

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against Capt. Neill’s Seafood, based in Columbia, North Carolina, and its president and CEO Phil Carawan, alleging they intentionally mislabeled foreign crab meat as “Product of the U.S.A.” The company labeled USD 4 million (EUR 3.5 million) worth of blue crab meat as “Product of the U.S.A.,” when it was actually purchased from Asia, the U.S. government alleges.

Photo courtesy of Niradj/Shutterstock

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