There used to be distinctive seasons for certain fish and produce, but international sourcing (taking advantage of summer down under during winter up here) has blurred many distinctions. The result is items, like types of wild caught fish, on menus practically year-round. Unfortunately, this has lead to misleading labeling and pricing in many establishments. According to Oceana, a fish sustainability organization, there is something fishy with the “wild salmon” being served in many restaurants, particularly “out of season.”
Oceana sampled salmon from 82 different restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Virginia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. They found the type of salmon sold to them was mislabeled 43 percent of the time. This means that consumers paid more for more expensive fish, like wild-caught, more select options but were served common farm-raised servings. Using DNA testing, they found the largest amount of fraud (69 percent of it) involving farm-raised Atlantic salmon being labeled as higher-quality fish that were caught in the wild. Much of the remaining instances involved fish labeled as one of the more sought-after types of salmon, such as Coho or Chinook, while actually being lower-priced and -valued species.
The fish fraud was more prevalent in restaurants. Salmon served in dining establishments was five times more likely to be labeled as a higher-quality fish than the fillets sold in a grocery store.
Oceana deliberately collected the seafood samples during the winter in 2013 and 2014, when fresh, wild-caught salmon is out of season. Accordingly, the organization’s results differ greatly from those gathered during a similar research effort that took place at the height of the North American commercial fishing season. That 2012 effort found a mere 7 percent of the orange-colored fish incorrectly labeled during the prime fishing season.
Salmon is the most popular fish (after shrimp) in the U.S., but consumers are falling victim to a bait and switch, according to Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana. “When consumers opt for wild-caught US salmon, they don’t expect to get a farmed or lower-value product of questionable origins.” She noted that seafood fraud can have both ecological and economic consequences.
The study is just the latest to illustrate that the nation’s seafood supply is mislabeled. Past Oceana studies found that 30 percent of shrimp is mislabeled and that 38 percent of blue crab supposedly from the Chesapeake region was actually different species of crab imported from other countries.
The restaurants and stores are probably not to blame. They are possibly being sold the fraudulent product and do not know it.
Sustainability organizations like Oceana are pushing for a comprehensive fish traceability program, which would require catch documentation on all seafood sold in the U.S. indicating the specific species, where it was sourced and full supply-chain traceability. For example, 70 percent of the wild salmon caught in the U.S. is exported to areas where it is cheaper to process. Some domestic wild-caught seafood does come back to the country to be sold, but only after passing through the poorly regulated global seafood market where information on the specific species and sourcing gets “lost.”
In the interim, they recommend that consumers take precautions to avoid being overcharged and being misled, such as learning when their favorite types of seafood are in season. To avoid having something fishy take place when being served salmon or other “fresh” fish, make sure the catch of the day is something that could actually be caught that time of year.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Oceana: Oceana Reveals Mislabeling of America’s Favorite Fish
Fox News: Salmon fraud frequently occurs at restaurants, grocery stores, study finds
USA Today: Study finds very high level of salmon fraud in restaurants
Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks Flickr Page – Creative Commons license