The Good Life

Fish Fraud

Before you order that expensive sea bass or spend $30 on halibut at the supermarket, you may want to take a second look: 25 per cent of fish is mislabeled, according to a University of Guelph study that used DNA analysis to determine the true identity of fish sold in Toronto and New York.

One sample sold as tuna turned out to be tilapia; and red snapper was, on different occasions, lavender jobfish, Labrador redfish, perch and cod. Some of the mislabelling could be blamed on nomenclature confusion. Scientists have Latin names for every species, while fishermen use their own common names, and those may vary from one country to another.

But some of the “substitutions” are definitely, well, fishy. The person who was served tilapia instead of tuna got hosed, as tilapia is less than half the price of tuna.

In another case, a fish sold as Alaskan halibut that was actually Atlantic halibut. Though the two species are closely related, for those concerned about eating ethically, there’s a big difference. Atlantic halibut stock has collapsed and the species is considered at risk; Pacific halibut is considered the more eco-friendly choice.

“We’re not really sure where mislabelling is occurring,” says NFI president John Connelly, adding that he thinks it’s usually not the fishermen or the fishmongers themselves. “My guess is it’s happening somewhere in the processing and distribution supply chain,” he says. “Trying to pass one fish off as another is often called species substitution, but I have another name for it — fraud.”

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