Less expensive fish like tilapia are sometimes swapped in for popular red snapper. Image source:Flickr CC user Ralph Daily
Did you have red snapper for dinner recently? It turns out there’s only a 13% chance that the fish you ate was actually snapper. As someone in the seafood industry, I find this news disappointing. I’m disappointed that consumers are paying for fish that they’re not getting, and that restaurants and stores are contributing to the problem.
It’s easy to sell one kind of fish as a different kind of fish, and especially once it’s baked or fried it’s very hard to tell that a switch was made. Even in the raw, detecting the real thing from an impostor can be impossible without a microscope and a DNA test kit—not what I bring when I go to the market for fish. So what’s a consumer to do? We’ll get to that, but first, here’s what’s going on behind all the mislabeling.
The Research Says...
As you might expect, the main motivation behind mislabeling is profit. For example, you may be paying more for less expensive fish like tilapia instead of higher priced red snapper. The fish you thought was sustainably sourced may come from a less than reputable source. Even worse, fishermen who try to do the right thing by bringing responsibly sourced fish to market are getting undercut by seafood scofflaws. And if it’s mislabeled, the fish you buy may be higher in mercury that what the label leads you to believe.
According to a 2013 report from the advocacy organization Oceana, of the red snapper and white tuna tested, 87 percent of the snapper and 84 percent of the tuna was actually found to be a different fish. Restaurants were the biggest offenders, followed by markets and grocery stores.
Oceana released another study last year that revealed disturbing evidence of mislabeling of America’s favorite fish—salmon.
Of the 82 samples of salmon the group gathered from various restaurants and grocery stores, 43 percent were not labeled correctly. DNA testing revealed that 69 percent of the mislabeled salmon consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as pricier wild-caught product.
“Americans might love salmon, but as our study reveals, they may be falling victim to a bait and switch,” said Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana after the report was released. “When consumers opt for wild-caught U.S. salmon, they don’t expect to get a farmed or lower-value product of questionable origins. This type of seafood fraud can have serious ecological and economic consequences. Not only are consumers getting ripped off, but responsible U.S. fishermen are being cheated when fraudulent products lower the price for their hard-won catch.”
At the root of the problem is the fact that as global consumption of seafood has increased, the amount of seafood coming from international sources has grown. Following the supply chain for all that fish is difficult, and it’s all too easy to label an expensive fish as a cheaper one.
Look for the Label
I know this can all sound rather daunting. But you can buy with confidence from vendors certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The nonprofit organization certifies that, farmed or wild-caught, the fish you buy is not only harvested from healthy populations by fishermen who employ humane and environmentally sound fishing techniques, but that the seafood has also been certified for traceability by the organization, which also DNA tests seafood every year to ensure labeling accuracy.
Back in 2015, the MSC tested more than 200 seafood samples from 16 countries, and found that the mislabeling rate for fish certified by MSC was less than 1 percent. That’s a great number. A meta-analysis of 51 studies on mislabeling found overall in the greater marketplace, an average of 30 percent of fish were mislabeled.
The Real Deal
Buying MSC-certified seafood is the way to avoid seafood fraud, and when your order your fish online from Daily Fresh Fish, you not only get the Marine Stewardship Council’s seal of approval, but your fish arrives as much as three days fresher than what you’d get at the grocery store. And, we have a 100% freshness guarantee! So you can count on your fish not only being fresh and sustainably harvested, but being exactly the fish you ordered. No impostors allowed.