Bait and Switch: The Harmful Mislabeling of Fish


If the environmental consequences weren’t enough reason to swear off fish a newly released study by OCEANA found that seafood fraud (the mislabeling of fish) is wide spread.  Of particular concern are fish species the FDA advises against eating, either because of high mercury content or unpleasant digestive side effects.

oceana fish mislabelling What kinds of fish were mislabeled? We’re not talking about already questionable fish sticks, which everyone knows are chicken. No, we are talking about over 13 different kinds of fish, from some of the finest dining establishments in New York City. Of the 142 samples taken 56 were mislabeled (39%).  Previous tests in other cities revealed similar numbers: Los Angeles (55%), Boston (48%), Miami (31%).  Samples were taken at random from groceries (both small independents and large chains), restaurants, and sushi bars. 

Two of the more disturbing factoids in the study:

 “100 percent of the 16 sushi bars tested sold mislabeled fish.”

“94 percent of the “white tuna” was not tuna at all, but escolar, a snake mackerel that has a toxin with purgative effects for people who eat more than a small amount of the fish. “

Now… Do you really want your food to include the words: snake, toxin, and purgative? Purgative. As in to purge.


And Kate Middleton beware,


mislabelled “Some of the most outrageous seafood fraud found in this study was the substitution of tilefish, a fish with a federal health advisory, for both halibut and red snapper, fish that do not carry such health warnings. Tilefish, particularly those harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, are so high in mercury that FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warn women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children “DO NOT EAT.”


But if the FDA is going to tell pregnant women and small children not to eat a certain fish because of mercury content and you’re not in one of those categories does that your free and clear to chow down? No! It’s heavy metal poisoning – which can mean – nausea, vomiting, impaired cognitive function, etc.

The variety of the fish sampled and assorted establishments demonstrate that this is not an “other class” problem. It’s not just the fat cat banker paying top dollar to chow down on almost extinct blue fin tuna who’s going to end up with a belly full of purgative snake mackerel.  The mislabeling is pervasive; it affects every stratum of restaurant, grocery, and fish. Eat at your own risk.

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  • Posted on Dec. 14, 2012. Listed in:

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