A new study shows that you may be buying mislabeled seafood in restaurants and at the grocery store.
Buying seafood can sometimes be a bait and switch experience, says Oceana, the International Ocean Conservation group.
Of 142 samples purchased this summer in New York City, Oceana says DNA testing revealed 39 percent were mislabeled, replaced with seafood of lower quality and value. At the 16 sushi bars they surveyed, all of them had mislabeled fish.
Red Snapper is a delicacy from the Gulf of Mexico, but 79 percent of the Red Snapper bought by Oceana was something else. Tests showed that it was everything from different types of Snapper, to a potentially dangerous fish.
"Some of the most troubling was the substitution of Tilefish for Red Snapper,” says Kimberly Warner a Senior Scientist at Oceana. “And Tilefish is one of the four fish that the FDA advises women of child-bearing age and young children to avoid due to high mercury concerns."
Oceana's report also found that 94 percent of white tuna, turned out to be escolar, a fish known for its laxative-like effects.
But the results did not surprise New York Seafood Wholesaler Vinny Dimino.
”It's not just the city, it's worldwide," explains Vinny Dimino a Seafood Wholesaler.
The Food and Drug Administration does regulate seafood labeling. And Dimino says he knows what he's buying, but for many consumers, it's a matter of trust.
"If they hired a thousand inspectors a day, they still couldn't stop it,” says Dimino. “They are trying, but they can't. Like I said, you have to rely on the people you buy from."
Why is this fish being mislabeled?
"I think the key reason is that we don't have a good traceability system on our seafood supply chain," describes Warner.
To crackdown on seafood fraud, the National Fisheries Institute, an industry trade group, set up the better seafood board. Its members promise to label seafood according to state and federal laws.
"Because the companies that do things right feel a disadvantage when either their competitors or their customers mislabel a product for financial gain,” says John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute. “It's just wrong."
Asking your server or grocer questions before you make your purchase can help you determine if the fish is really what the label says it is.
If you want to learn more about how to tell the difference on your own, Oceana also has a Facebook app quiz you can take.