I recently ordered a halibut taco, but what I was served was definitely not halibut. It was probably tilapia, but it tasted good and it was cheap so I didn’t mind too much. But what if I had payed good money for a swordfish steak in a nice restaurant, but I was really eating shark? Or if I thought I was buying gulf shrimp in the grocery store, but they were really farmed shrimp from Thailand? This is more common than you may realize. Luckily, the practice of deliberate mislabeling seafood is being exposed through new technologies that allow the DNA of a species to be scanned and correctly identified.
I just finished reading this article, which was published in The New York Times a few days ago: New Technology Reveals Widespread Mislabeling of Fish – NYTimes.com. The article claims that 20-25% of all seafood tested was mislabeled. Fraud rates in certain species were as high as 70%!!!!
With 84% of seafood eaten in the US being imported from other countries, the true identity and source of the species is often difficult to track. Part of the solution is obviously greater monitoring and more testing and inspections. But for those of us who live near water, perhaps more important should be a relationship with a seafood seller. Find a local market you trust- someone who is knowledgeable about seafood- someone who buys direct from the fisherman. Or even better, buy direct from the fisherman yourself. This type of relationship not only gives you peace of mind, knowing you are supporting local families and businesses, but also the valuable knowledge of where your food comes from.
Hopefully widespread DNA testing of seafood will soon be standard, but I just feel better when I personally know where my fish came from and how it was caught. I want to know that I’m actually getting what I’m paying for.