Mislabeling fish products, as well as others food products, is a global issue that researchers have struggled to accurately gauge the severity of. It has also been tough to ascertain if efforts to control the fraudulent practice are making progress. According to a report on seafood fraud released on Wednesday, 1 in 5 seafood samples tested worldwide turn out to be completely different from what the menu or packaging says. The ocean conservation group that created the report, Oceana, tested 25,000 seafood samples, and of those, 20 percent were incorrectly labeled.
“It is likely that the average consumer has eaten mislabeled fish for sure,” said Beth Lowell, the senior campaign director for Oceana and an author of the paper. “You’re getting ripped off, while you enjoyed your meal you’re paying a high price for a low fish.”
The biggest impostor, fittingly, was farmed Asian catfish, a fish with white flesh that is easily disguised when it’s filleted and drenched in sauce. It was sold in place of 18 types of more expensive fish, including perch, cod and grouper.
The report is a sort of meta-analysis of more than 200 studies from 55 countries. One of those studies found that in Italy, 82 percent of the 200 perch, groupers and swordfish sampled were mislabeled. King mackerel, which is high in mercury, was sold as “barracuda” and “wahoo” in South Africa. In Hong Kong, only one out of 29 samples of “abalone” was correctly labeled. Two sushi chefs in Santa Monica in Southern California were charged with selling endangered whale meat as fatty tuna.
Using the various studies, the researchers created an interactive map that shows where they found cases of phony fish. The studies include DNA analyses from peer-reviewed papers, newspaper investigations and about 10 of Oceana’s own studies. The report found examples of mislabeling at every level of the seafood supply chain, including the wholesaler, the importer and the retailer.
“We kept thinking we’d find a success story, a place where seafood wouldn’t be mislabeled,” Ms. Lowell said. “Every single study that we reviewed except for one found seafood fraud.”
Even that case had a caveat Ms. Lowell said, because it took place in Tasmania where some mislabeling, like calling hake “smoked cod,” is allowed under Australian regulation.
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