How Common Is Fish Fraud?

As much as half of fish purchased in US restaurants is incorrectly labeled, according to a Boston Globe study. This phenomenon, which is known as fish fraud or seafood fraud, generally consists of a restaurant or market selling one type of fish, but actually delivering another, likely more inexpensive, fish to the customer. For example, when a customer orders red snapper, she's likely to actually be served tilapia. Numerous studies in various parts of the US, including Massachusetts, Florida, and California found up to 55% of fish purchased and DNA tested to have been mislabeled by the seller. While fish fraud may be intentional to increase profits, it's not the only reason it happens. Poor translations are common with imported fish. Also, certain fish species have more than one name, which can also result in mislabeling.

More information about fish labeling:

  • In the US, over 80% of fish is imported and the FDA inspects less than 5% of it. DNA testing by the FDA is being considered.
  • Tracking down the culprit in fish fraud is difficult since the mislabeling can occur at any of the many points after the fish is caught and before it is sold to the final consumer.

  • Sometimes fish names change for marketing reasons: the toothfish became more popular after an American fish seller in 1977 started calling it "Chilean sea bass."

  • Fish fraud can have serious consequences due to food allergies and types of fish that can cause gastrointestinal distress, such as escolar, which is often labeled as white tuna.

  • Some argue that though the DNA testing process of the fish tested in this study was scientific, selection of which restaurants and which fish were tested was not scientific.

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