Fish Fraud Versus Regional Dialect — Misunderstandings in the Seafood Industry

Time and time again we’ve been told that we should be eating more fish, that a diet based on fish could be a key component of a long and healthy life, that the high-protein, low-calorie, fatty acid–rich flesh of sea creatures will keep our skin smooth, our hearts strong, our brains sharp. That’s great — fish are, generally speaking, delish, and L.A. is a city with no shortage of outstanding seafood options, from the bright, sharp ceviche tostadas at mariscos joints to immaculately sliced nigiri at high-end sushi restaurants. But not everything is the rosy hue of chutoro in the kingdom of the ocean.

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A recent study conducted by UCLA and Loyola Marymount University found that some 47 percent of fish served to researchers at sushi restaurants over a three-year period was not the fish advertised. Using DNA testing, researchers determined that they were deceived in all 43 orders of halibut, which turned out to be flounder in 90 percent of cases. The other egregious offender was red snapper — 32 times researchers ordered it, and 32 times they received a different kind of fish. They also discovered six orders of salmon out of 47 that turned out to be a totally different fish. Tuna was tuna, for the most part, although varieties were frequently mixed up: yellowfin for bigeye or vice versa.

Aside from the sinister personal implications — the manipulation and deceit of serving mystery fish, a treacherous attempt to overcharge and under-deliver — this also presents a problem on a grander scale. If the fish we’re getting are not the fish we‘re expecting, who’s to say how and where they were raised, caught, farmed or shipped? Much less how they were identified, sorted, cleaned and stored.

There is a long list of fish that have been classified as threatened or endangered, and swapping mystery fish denies diners the opportunity to make ethical decisions about their eating and the provenance of their dinner. Illegal fisheries have become a big problem in our oceans, and mislabeling fish is a potential path for some unscrupulous fishing companies to unload unregulated, unwanted or even illegal stock.

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