How the Fish Industry is Defrauding Millions and Should Be Avoided At All Costs

Eating fish is synonymous with health. We think of the excellent nutrient profile: the high protein, beneficial fish oils, and healthy fats. But what if the fish you’ve been eating has been misleading you?

According to a new report on seafood fraud, one in five seafood samples turn out to be completely different fish than what the menu or packaging might lead you to believe. The group analyzed more than 25,000 seafood samples and a little more than 20% were mislabeled. The biggest faux fish was farmed Asian catfish, which was sold as perch, cod, grouper, and 15 other more expensive fish.

This isn’t just alarming because you might be paying top dollar for a bottom-dwelling fish; 58% of the mislabeled fish were varieties that could potentially pose health risks, particularly for children and pregnant women. A grocery store in New York City was selling blueline tilefish in the place of many more expensive types. Tilefish is on the FDA’s “Do Not Eat” list because it is extremely high in mercury.

Beware of these Fish

  • Red Snapper is the most commonly mislabeled fish: of the 120 red snapper samples purchased for the study, only 7 of them actually turned out to be genuine red snapper.
  • White tuna came in as the second most commonly mislabeled fish. More than 80% of the samples taken for the study were actually a species of snake mackerel called escolar, a fish that can cause serious stomach issues for some consumers.
  • Sashimistyle fatty tuna was often replaced with whale meat, a serious offense because whales are an endangered species.

It is unclear whether the organizations and businesses selling these fish knew about the fraud or if they too are victims of a much larger problem with fish regulations. Either way, here’s how to avoid the most likely situations where misrepresentation arises.

How to Avoid Eating Mislabeled Fish

  • Avoid sushi bars. Sushi restaurants were particularly misleading. According to the study, in New York City and Chicago, every sushi restaurant visited sold at least one misrepresented fish. Down in Austin Texas, one sushi restaurant mislabeled every single sample. Use common sense—if that sushi bar in the landlocked Midwest is selling amazing exotic fish at low prices—beware!
  • Buy Local. If you live on the coast, consider yourself lucky. Visit your local fishmonger or find a seafood-buying club that allows you direct access to fishermen. They can tell you exactly what you’re buying, fresh from the water. Or better yet, learn to fish and take out the middleman altogether.
  • Buy online. If you are landlocked, don’t give up on delicious fish. Fresh seafood is available from ethical, certified online stores like I Love Blue Sea or Vital Choice.
  • Avoid eating Fish in Restaurants. It’s a lot easier to disguise a fish in a sauce or fish stew. Until the regulations on fish peddling become more vigilant, it’s your best bet to only eat what you’ve cooked and handled yourself.
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