Fish Mislabeling Rampant: 87% of Snapper Isn't

A third of fish aren't labeled correctly; worst offenders are sushi joints

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 21, 2013 7:20 AM CST | Updated Feb 21, 2013 7:46 AM CST

(Newser) – OK, it's not horse meat, but fish mislabeling is rampant across the US, a 20-state study finds. Up to a third of restaurant and grocery-store seafood is labeled incorrectly, the Washington Post reports. Looking at specific varieties, the figures get even starker: Some 94% of so-called tuna in New York wasn't, the New York Times reports, while 87% of snapper is mislabeled. “Even a relatively educated consumer couldn’t look at a whole fish and say, ‘I’m sure that’s a red snapper and not lane snapper,’ ” says the study's lead author. The study follows up on a smaller one released in December by activist group Oceana.

Overall, Southern California had the worst labeling record, with 52% of its fish marked wrong. And the worst venue for wrong labels: sushi restaurants, the study found, at a 95% rate. In many cases, sushi joints called escolar—or albacore canned tuna—"white tuna." Too much of it can cause diarrhea. Odds for consumers are best at grocery stores, where 27% of the products are mislabeled. In many cases, cheaper fish took the place of more expensive ones. Less than 1% of seafood sold in the US undergoes FDA testing for fraud, says a 2009 report.

Fresh red snapper is iced and ready for sale in Bon Secour, Ala., Wednesday, May 16, 2012.
Fresh red snapper is iced and ready for sale in Bon Secour, Ala., Wednesday, May 16, 2012.   (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
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