Attention seafood lovers across the nation: The amazing fillets you've purchased for dinner or fantastic sushi roll combos you've selected for lunch weren't what you thought they were. Maybe you wanted red snapper. Maybe you wanted tuna. But that's not what you got. According to a new study on fish, pretty much no one knows what fish they're really eating — because restaurants and companies are mislabeling their fish when it suits them to do so. Something is fishy in the fish market!
Oceana, an organization founded in 2001, bills itself as the world's biggest ocean conservation company. They will now also be known as the company that blew the lid off the tuna can. From 2010 to 2012, Oceana extensively studied seafood from over 1,200 seafood samples from 650 retailers spread across the United States. What they found is that the seafood industry is one founded on lies. Using DNA testing, Oceana discovered that 33 percent of seafood was mislabeled according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. The two fish most often mislabeled? Snapper and tuna. Snapper was incorrectly labeled as such a whopping 87 percent of the time, and tuna 60 percent of the time. Out of 120 samples of snapper, 113 of them were another fish. Basically this means that you've probably never actually eaten snapper.
The mislabeling of fish varied by location. Live in Southern California? You have no clue what fish you have been eating, as 52 percent of fish there was not what it was identified on the packaging or menu. How about New York? Not one sushi restaurant surveyed had their fish correctly named. Pennsylvanians who have been chowing on snapper have most likely been eating tilapia, which was found to be substituted for snapper about 56 percent of the time.
Part of the problem is that attention to detail has been ignored. The right information has simply not made its way from fisherman to restaurant table. Another part, however, is about money. "In the real world of perception and marketing, a fish called 'slimehead' — a real name, by the way — is probably not going to fly off the menu," explains the New York Times. "Far better to call it 'orange roughy,' a distinction allowed by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. The government also allows Patagonian toothfish, real name, to be called Chilean sea bass, an invented marketing name."
In its report, Oceana says that the only way to stop this is for the government to "increase seafood inspections and testing, improve documentation and verification and require seafood traceability." However, you know how quickly governments act, so don't expect things to change soon. In the meantime, it's probably best to just close your eyes and enjoy your grouper. Or cod. Or white hake. Or perch. Or rockfish. Or whatever.
[Pic via Flickr - Paul Narvaez]