It is common for fish to be mislabeled as a different species, according to a new report by nonprofit group Oceana. The study, titled "Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health" [pdf] examines the widespread mislabeling of fish in stores and restaurants. The report estimates that seafood fraud occurs in one quarter to over one third of seafood in the U.S.
Red snapper, wild salmon, grouper and Atlantic cod are most commonly mislabeled, with some estimates placing red snapper fraud at almost 90%. The New York Times comments that "tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role." Other common substitutions include yellowtail for mahi mahi, mako shark for swordfish, sea bass for halibut and pufferfish for monkfish.
Despite the rampant cases of seafood fraud, it remains challenging to reduce the number of occurrences. The New York Times explains, "even the most experienced fishmongers are hard pressed to distinguish certain steaks or fillets without the benefit of scales or fins."
Although, the Los Angeles Times notes, the FDA has been working on a DNA-based method to identify seafood, there is no seafood tracking database currently in place.
In the meantime, most of the onus is now on the consumers. The FDA urges consumers to watch out for unusually low prices for fish that they know generally cost more and Oceana details that processed seafood is more likely to be fraudulent. Unfortunately, at least for the moment, the moral of the story is basically, "buyer beware."