Fish fraud: What’s on the menu often isn’t what’s on your plate


(CNN) — If you splurge on the sea bass or snapper, you may not always be getting what you pay for, even at the fanciest restaurants and upscale fish markets.

There’s something, well, fishy going on with certain favorite fish dishes, according to a new study from the conservation group Oceana.

DNA tests showed that about 21% of the fish researchers sampled was not what it was called on the label or menu. That’s despite nearly a decade of investigations, more regulations and Americans’ appetites growing beyond fish sticks and tuna surprise.

“Consumers are getting ripped off,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy vice president. Lowell said this isn’t an isolated problem. Her organization tested more than 400 samples from 277 locations in 24 states and in the District of Columbia. Oceana did not name the markets, stores and restaurants where it purchased the samples.

Among the samples they tested, seafood was more frequently mislabeled in restaurants and at smaller markets than in larger grocery chains. One out of three stores and restaurants visited by the investigative team sold at least one mislabeled item.

Favorites like sea bass and snapper had some of the highest rates of mislabeling. Sea bass was mislabeled 55% of the time and snapper 42% of the time, Oceana’s tests showed. Often, instead of sea bass, they’d get giant perch or Nile tilapia, fish that should be less expensive and is considered lower quality. Dover sole they tested was actually walleye. Lavender jobfish had been substituted for Florida snapper.

“We’ve been testing seafood for nine years now, and every time we do a study, we think, ‘maybe we will no longer see a problem,’ but we keep finding it, and we know it’s having an impact on our oceans,” Lowell said.

Some of the substituted fish was not sustainably caught, even though it was sold as such, meaning an overfished and endangered Atlantic halibut was sold as the more plentiful Pacific halibut. One in four halibut samples the group tested was mislabeled.

For Americans who are trying to be more mindful about the fish they eat; who are worried about the impact of climate change and endangering fish stock; who want to eat food from lakes or oceans closer to home; or for pregnant women trying to avoid fish with high mercury content, this news has got to be frustrating, Lowell said.

“We need to do more to protect consumers,” Lowell said.

Oceana’s is not the only recent study to find fish fraud. In December, a New York state Attorney General’s Office investigation found that more than one in four samples, or 26.92% of the seafood they bought and tested was mislabeled. In that investigation, the problem was in virtually “every tested seafood category.”

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Source: Jen Christensen | CNN

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