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Something’s Fishy: What You Think You’re Eating and What You’re Actually Eating

February 24, 2013

Here’s something to think about next time you go out to dinner: 59% of the fish labeled “tuna” at restaurants and grocery stores is actually NOT tuna. So what is it you ask? Genetic testing reveals that much of what we’re eating is a fish called escolar, which has been known to cause digestive issues for those who eat more than a few ounces (for the grosser details, read this). This mislabeling is not limited to just tuna either; only seven of 120 samples of snapper taken nationally turned out to actually be red snapper. The Oceana study found that cheaper farmed fish are oftentimes substituted for wild fish, including pangasius sold as grouper, sole and cod; tilapia labeled as red snapper; and Atlantic farmed salmon sold under the name wild or king salmon.


Oceana found incidents of mislabeling nationwide with 52% of tested fish labeled inaccurately in Southern California, 48% here in Boston, 39% in NYC, 32% in Chicago, 26% in Washington DC, and 21% in Portland, OR.

This may not be too surprising given the dire state of the oceans and its largest fish, but it should cause concern. Oceana calls for an overhaul of our system in their report:

Our findings demonstrate that a comprehensive and transparent traceability system – one that tracks fish from boat to plate – must be established at the national level. At the same time, increased inspection and testing of our seafood, specifically for mislabeling, and stronger federal and state enforcement of existing laws combatting fraud are needed to reverse these disturbing trends. Our government has a responsibility to provide more information about the fish sold in the U.S., as seafood fraud harms not only consumers’ wallets, but also every honest vendor and fisherman cheated in the process–to say nothing of the health of our oceans.

Next time you see what appears to be affordable fish in the grocery store display case or on the menu, consider the true costs of eating it.

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