Study Finds A Third Of NYC’s Seafood Is Mislabeled, Posing Health Risks

It isn’t just Los Angeles that is having a problem with mislabeled fish — a new study that tested seafood on menus, at grocery stores and in fancy specialty shops in New York City says plenty of the fish offerings there are frequently misidentified. So while you might think you’re ordering up a nice slab of red snapper, it could just be a regular old piece of tialpia. That kind of mislabeling and misrepresentation could also lead to plenty of health problems, say researchers.

Conservation group Ocean ran the study (via the New York Times) and found that after analyzing the DNA of around 150 samples of fresh seafood collected from 81 places around NYC last summer, a whopping 39% were mislabeled. None of those establishments were called out by name, however.

In some cases, cheaper fish were simply substituted for more high-falutin’ swimmers, or species that consumers might avoid because they’ve been warned about overfishing. Telling a customer that you’re not serving a fish that’s threatened and then having them eat it anyway goes beyond dishonesty, it violates laws protecting consumers.

Then there’s the health aspect of this — 13 kinds of fish including tilapia and tilefish were wrongly identified as red snapper. This should be particularly galling to pregnant women or those who are nursing, as the Food and Drug Administration advises them against eating tilefish because they have such high mercury levels.

You want some white tuna? You might actually be (and likely are) eating snake mackerel or escolar 94% of the time, which could give you diarrhea due to the toxin they contain. No, thank you. I’ll have none of that.

The most commonly mislabeled species were tuna and snapper, and mislabeling occurred in samples from all of the 16 sushi restaurants that were included in the study.

There could be even more problems out there, said the leader of the study, because the samples used in the study were sent in voluntarily by New York-area supporters who submitted slices of the fish they ate.

“There are a lot of flummoxed people out there who are trying to buy fish carefully and trying to shop their conscience, but they can’t if this kind of fraud is happening,” she said.

Widespread Seafood Fraud Found in New York City [Oceana]
Tests Say Mislabeled Fish Is a Widespread Problem [New York Times]