Oceana — the largest international ocean conservation — conducted a first-of-its-kind study (in the United States) on shrimp labeling and found shrimp fraud is far and wide. Thirty-five percent of 111 vendors, 31 percent of 70 restaurants, and 30 percent of shrimp bought from grocery stores and restaurants were all caught selling mislabeled fish.

“I’ve seen cute little cleaner shrimp in aquariums and while scuba diving, but never expected to find one on a grocery shelf,’” Dr. Kimberly Warner, lead study author and senior scientist at Oceana, said in a press release. “We really know very little about the shrimp we eat, and the information we do get may not be trustworthy. Consumers have a right to know more about the shrimp they purchase in order to make more responsible choices.”

Here are the basics: Aquaculture refers to farm-raised shrimp. It literally translates to the farming of aquatic organisms, which the University of Florida reported is responsible for accelerting global shrimp demand. It’s also responsible for severely negative impacts on the environment and public health. UF researchers added that “intensive shrimp farms … are responsible for discharging [pollutants] from fertilizers, feces, and excess artificial feed.” Some of these pollutants, found Food and Water Watch, are PCBs, a known carcinogen.

Wild-caught shrimp, on the other hand, are caught with shrimp trawls. UF described trawling gear as “a funnel-shaped net held open by heavy doors when deployed,” and the net essentially scrapes the bottom of the floor to get shrimp inside the doors. It depends on the kind of trawl, but usually, this can both damage the ocean floor and result in by-catch, which is catching other fish and seas turtles — another major hit to the environment.

To go back to misrepresentation, Oceana found farmed whiteleg shrimp was being sold as wild or Gulf shrimp, and samples labeled as just “shrimp” were actually wild-caught species. So if grocery stores and restaurants are labeling their shrimp at all, there’s a good (unfortunate) chance it's a fake. The reality is only 10 percent of the shrimp in the U.S. comes from U.S. oceans (where you want your shrimp from), while 90 percent is imported from fisheries outside the states.

Turns out, the U.S. has the highest production standards in the world. If your shrimp is American, it won't matter if you order, buy farm-raised or wild-caught varieties (though wild-caught fish are done in safer trawls in clean waters). All you'll get is the shrimp's rich source of lean protein and cancer-fighting selenium. Since this is clearly hard to determine, check out Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch's shrimp recommendations.

Source: Warner K, Golden R, Lowell B, Disla C, Savitz J, et al. Shrimp: Oceana Reveals Misrepresentation of America’s Favorite Seafood. Oceana, 2014.