Study Claims 43% Of “Wild” Salmon In Stores & Restaurants Isn’t Wild At All

That wild salmon entrée calling to you from the menu at dinner might not be all it’s advertised. In fact a new study released Wednesday found evidence of mislabeling in nearly half of all salmon sold in restaurants and grocery stores. 

The study [PDF] from international environmental advocacy group, Oceana, analyzed 82 salmon samples from restaurants and grocery stores, finding that 43% of the products were mislabeled.

DNA testing confirmed that 69% of the mislabeled product consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild-caught product.

According to the report, consumers satisfying their salmon craving in restaurants are misled about 67% of the time, while those who buy their seafood in a grocery store are misled 20% of the time.

“Americans might love salmon, but as our study reveals, they may be falling victim to a bait and switch,” Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, said. “When consumers opt for wild-caught U.S. salmon, they don’t expect to get a farmed or lower-value product of questionable origins.”

Oceana found mislabeled salmon in most areas of the U.S. Nearly 48% of the samples in Virginia, 45% in Washington, D.C., 38% in Chicago, and 37% in New York were mislabeled, according to the report.

Salmon samples were considered to be mislabeled if they were described as being “wild,” “Alaskan” or “Pacific,” but DNA testing revealed them to be farmed Atlantic salmon; or the samples were labeled as a specific type of salmon, like “Chinook,” but testing revealed them to be different species – often lower valued fish product.

Samples tested by Oceana were collected during the winter of 2013-2014, when wild salmon were out-of-season.

“This type of seafood fraud can have serious ecological and economic consequences,” Lowell said. “Not only are consumers getting ripped off, but responsible U.S. fishermen are being cheated when fraudulent products lower the price for their hard-won catch.”

Wednesday’s report is a contrast to Oceana’s 2013 national survey that found low rates – just 7% – of mislabeled salmon. Unlike the new report, these samples were collected when wild salmon was plentiful.

When Oceana combined its two studies, which included 466 total salmon samples, the group determined that diners were five times more likely to be misled in restaurants than grocery stores, 38% in restaurants compared to 7% in grocery stores.

Consumers shopping in national, large grocery stores were less likely to be misled on the origin of their salmon.

However, salmon purchased out-of-season from all retail types was three times more likely to be mislabeled than salmon purchased during the traditional commercial fishing season.

“Eat your salmon in season,” Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana and one of the writers of the study, said. “Time of year makes such a big difference on whether salmon mislabeling is high or low.”

Oceana’s findings related to wild-caught salmon is the third in the past 12 months regarding mislabeled seafood products.

Back in April, the group found that 38% of Chesapeake Bay blue crab sold in the Maryland and Washington D.C. area contained imported impostors instead.

Instead of the locally caught blue crab on the menu, those crab cakes had imported substitutes, most of which were fished unsustainably, the group says.

Prior to that, the group discovered that a third of Wild Gulf Shrimp sold in U.S. stores and restaurants weren’t what they were advertised to be.

DNA testing revealed that 30% of the 143 shrimp products sampled by the group contained some kind of misrepresentation including products where one species was swapped for another; product sold as Gulf/wild shrimp were actually farmed; or bags included a mix of different species.