Mislabeling seems to be the newest trend for misguided restaurateurs. We learned many restaurants and produce purveyors are pushing Kobe beef which is anything but. Non-profit watchdog group Oceana has been conducting (and continues to conduct) testing of sushi purchased from restaurants and retail locations across the country. A report released last week by the environmental advocacy group detailing sushi sold in California showed that 55 percent of the seafood it tested in the two counties was mislabeled. Nearly 120 samples were collected from seafood restaurants, grocery stores, sushi bars and restaurant chains.
“Be on the look out for seafood sleuths in the Bay Area,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California program director. The organization has volunteers and staff actively testing fish in restaurants, grocery stores, retail locations, and fish markets throughout the state.
In the L.A. samples, red snapper was mislabeled 100% of the time. 100 per cent. That means no one is eating red snapper. DNA tests were use to identify tilapia and pollock as popular substitutes. Dover sole was discovered to be Asian “sutchi catfish” or common sole, and white tuna was often actually escolar, a snake mackerel which is referred to as “ex-lax” fish, a nod to its effect on the digestive system. So potent is the effect, the fish has been restricted in some countries. Samples of yellowtail sold at sushi restaurants were often Japanese amberjack. Flounder was frequently sold as halibut, and sea bream was substituted for sea bass.
Sushi restaurants had the highest incidence of mislabeling in Los Angeles. Oceana reported that 87% of fish served within the 10 categories tested, were mislabeled. The main motivation for such deception and fraud is simple economics. It is more profitable to sell an inexpensive fish that can pass for one that costs significantly more, especially if no one is any the wiser. The report does not concentrate on the source of the mislabeling. 87% of fish sold in the United States is imported, it’s unknown where along the chain of processing, packaging, wholesaling, and resale the fraud occurs.
A Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, would address the problem by requiring big restaurant chains to provide more information to customers about the origins of the fish they serve.
Being a sushi fan myself I’d like to see some accountability for what’s getting passed off to the buying public. If I’m paying twelve or fifteen dollars for a single plate of nigiri, I damn well better be getting what’s advertised. We’ll keep you posted on any further developments.