The Hyman’s Seafood Litigation is one of the most talked about lawsuits in the past. Back in 2021, a local attorney won a massive lawsuit against Hyman’s Seafood, claiming that the company was guilty of knowingly selling low-quality, but appealing sounding seafood products to customers in Georgia and Alabama. If this attorney had lost the initial lawsuit, he may not have been able to recoup all of his losses.
One of the best things about this particular lawsuit is that it was brought by an individual.
It is rare nowadays for large corporations to be involved in such lawsuits, as they usually try to get their way through arbitration or in court by using various arguments and tricks. In this case, however, the lawyer was a regular paying customer who got angry at Hyman’s Seafood for charging too much for seafood. When he learned that his union, the American Federation of Association Seafood Dealers, was fighting for his rights as a customer, he went ahead and filed the lawsuit. As you can imagine, this caused quite a ruckus with the seafood industry and big fish producers all over the country.
The legal battle that ensued became extremely bitter and costly for Hyman’s Seafood, which ultimately ended up having to close its doors.
The initial complaint that was filed by the attorney general of Alabama alleged that the seafood industry was purposefully manipulating federal and state laws in order to increase their profits at the expense of the consumer. According to the complaint, the Alabama seafood industry routinely charges prices that are significantly higher than the seafood products available at more reasonable prices, and this has been happening for years. The complaint also says that since the seafood industry enjoys a tremendous degree of support from the federal and state governments, they are free from competition.
During the course of the legal dispute, one of the main issues that arose was the practice of what is called “chemelling”.
This is the practice of putting different colorings on seafood products so that people will be able to recognize them. For example, shrimp may have a red color, but if you look closely you’ll see that it actually has a green dye. In essence, this is called “re-branding” and according to the attorneys who brought the lawsuit, this is an illegal practice. In fact, they argue that because these shrimp, clams, mussels, oysters, etc all have a visible color on the outside, they actually do not meet the legal definition of seafood.
When you buy a cold seafood product, you are buying what is known as “fresh”.
The term “fresh” is associated with a number of requirements. In order to meet the “fresh” requirement, a product has to be stored at a temperature of between forty-five and ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, it has to be frozen within fifteen days in order to qualify as “frozen”. Hyman’s Seafood’s lawyers argue that the seafood industry is trying to circumvent the requirements in order to increase profits.
So, what does this all mean for the consumer?
It means that the seafood industry can continue to use color additives like “red dye” to create a longer lived product, one that consumers will gladly pay more for. At the same time, consumers are getting less than they were in the past. In addition to the plaintiff’s attorney’s argument about this, there is the simple fact that shrimp has gotten a lot more expensive over time. The end result of this trend is that shrimp, clams, and oysters no longer meet the requirements necessary to qualify as “craft brew” under the law.
Hopefully, this lawsuit will prompt Congress to re-evaluate the seafood industry. They have already done plenty of research into the industry, and it appears that many of their suggestions are likely to go in the garbage can. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that the seafood processing industry cannot improve in other areas.
Consumers have always been able to pick and choose which seafood they want. With so many different types of products coming out on the market, it seems that consumers are more comfortable buying wild fish rather than processed, which they now can do. The only way that we will know for sure how the change in attitude regarding seafood will affect the industry is to see it through to end. If there is a major improvement, it might not be long before other seafood companies follow suit. Until then, Hyman’s remains to be the king of seafood, and perhaps the crown shouldered by everyone in the industry.