U.S. dietary guidelines recommend eating 8 ounces of seafood — two seafood meals — per week because fish and shellfish, in addition to being generally low in calories, possess essential fatty acids crucial to cognitive functioning, cardiovascular health, and immune system support. Whether it's because a lot of people follow these guidelines or just because we like eating fish, the United States is the second largest consumer of seafood in the world. To keep up with the massive demand, we must import 90 percent of our seafood from abroad.
A comprehensive study by Oceana, a leading non-profit in ocean preservation and an authority on seafood, found that fish and shellfish mislabeling is rampant in U.S. markets.
To conduct their study, Oceana collected more than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states over a two-year period from 2010 to 2012 and tested their DNA. They found that of the locations where fish was obtained, 74 percent of sushi venues, 38 percent of restaurants, and 18 percent of grocery stores sold mislabeled seafood products. However, since the samples were collected only from the seafood’s final destination, it’s difficult to know at what point along the supply chain the mislabeling was introduced, and whether it was intentionally fraudulent or not..
Whatever its origins or intent, mislabeling hurts the integrity of seafood industry. In New York City, for example, of the sushi restaurants surveyed, every single one sold some form of mislabeled fish. Not only is mislabeling fish a disservice to the consumer — and possibly outright fraud — but it’s also a health hazard. One particular grocery store marketed tilefish — which has been identified by the FDA as having a high mercury content — as halibut and red snapper.
Since federal agencies like the FDA are unable to monitor all aspects of the U.S. food system, consumers should be aware of which varieties of fish are most commonly mislabeled, and especially in those cases pay particularly close attention to their source.
Click here to see the seven kinds of fish most often mislabeled.