Think You Bought Red Snapper? Don’t Be So Sure

When the environmental group Oceana conducted a large study of the issue three years ago, the results were shocking. Scientists performed DNA tests on more than 1,200 samples from nearly 700 different stores and restaurants in 21 states. One out of three fish were mislabeled, in violation of Food and Drug Administration regulations, and the numbers were even worse in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

“The path seafood travels from the fishing boat or farm to our dinner plates is long, complex and non-transparent, rife with opportunities for fraud and mislabeling,” said Oceana director Beth Lowell in a news release. In its review, Oceana found signs of fraud in every part of the seafood process — mislabeling occurred when the fish were caught, processed, shipped, distributed and sold.

Part of the problem is that seafood comes in thousands of varieties, including radically different species, of which hundreds are widely available for sale. Realistically, consumers can’t be well-informed about all of these different sorts of fish.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that more than 90% of our seafood, according to the FDA, comes from outside the U.S. “Not only do we have lots of illegally caught fish,” said Eric Schwaab of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, “but they make their way into our food supply with little traceability in terms of country of origin or even species.”

Federal regulators have made a start in addressing these issues, with an FDA program called SCALE (for Seafood Compliance and Labeling Enforcement), which builds on the work of scientists like Dr. Stoeckle by using a genetic database to test imported fillets, shrimp, lobsters and crab. The groundwork for the project was completed in 2014, including a new lab and database, but its wider rollout to field agencies has been officially “on hold” since then.

In the bizarro world of seafood fraud, a fish is not always what it seems.

When sold in a certain Santa Monica, Calif., sushi shop, illegal whale meat became fatty tuna. (The restaurant has since shut down.)

And when sold across the United States, cheap Asian catfish becomes one of 18 types of white fish fraudsters want it to be, according to a recent report.

Worldwide, one in five pieces of fish meat is incorrectly named on the menu or label, revealed the new survey representing 25,000 fish samples.

Oceana, a marine conservation and advocacy group, released the report on Wednesday, and updated the global map it created in 2014.

The new map is interactive and highlights news stories of restaurant fraud, as well as DNA analysis and other scientific studies.

Read and view more …

Think You Bought Red Snapper? Don’t Be So Sure, Wall Street Journal, Aug 5, 2016

Switch and chips: 20 percent of fish are purposely mislabeled, sometimes dangerously, Washington Post, Sep 9, 2016

One-third of seafood mislabeled, study finds, Washington Post, Feb 21, 2013

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