28 October 2011

You might as well just order fish sticks

Because when you order a premium fish at a restaurant, you're probably not going to get it.  Here's what the Boston Globe found:
The sliver of raw fish sold as white tuna at Skipjack’s in Foxborough was actually escolar, an oily, cheaper species banned in Japan because it can make people sick. The Alaskan butterfish at celebrity chef Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley was really sablefish, traditionally a staple at Jewish delicatessens, not upscale dining establishments.

At Chau Chow Seafood Restaurant in Dorchester, the $23 flounder fillet turned out to be a Vietnamese catfish known as swai - nutritionally inferior and often priced under $4 a pound.
Those were among the findings of a five-month Globe investigation into the mislabeling of fish. It showed that Massachusetts consumers routinely and unwittingly overpay for less desirable, sometimes undesirable, species - or buy seafood that is simply not what it is advertised to be. In many cases, the fish was caught thousands of miles away and frozen, not hauled in by local fishermen, as the menu claimed...

The Globe collected fish from 134 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets from Leominster to Provincetown, and hired a laboratory in Canada to conduct DNA testing on the samples. Analyses by the DNA lab and other scientists showed that 87 of 183 were sold with the wrong species name - 48 percent...

The Globe-sponsored DNA testing found 24 of the 26 red snapper samples were in fact other, less prized species... All 23 white tuna samples tested as some other type of fish, usually escolar, which is nicknamed the “ex-lax’’ fish by some in the industry because of the digestion problems it can cause...

Seafood substitution can take place anywhere along the international route most wild and farmed fish take to a diner’s plate in the United States. The practice is carried out by fishermen, importers, wholesalers, restaurants, and stores...
More at the link, and it's not very cheerful, because you know these are not innocent mistakes.

Via Consumerist, via the crazy cat lady.


  1. Was this done in conjunction with Consumer Reports? Because mine came yesterday and they did the same sort of investigation.

  2. Escolar...bleeuch...

  3. Phyllis, I think the Consumerist website is connected to Consumer Reports.

    But after I read your message I went upstairs and found our issue that arrived yesterday. Looks like the CR report involves NYC food sources, while the Boston Globe one was done in the Bay area.

    Interesting to see that similar results are being obtained in different locations.

    p.s. in Minnesota a good serving of walleye and other local fish will come with the skin on, so there's no doubt re the identity.

  4. They've done studies here in Florida and many places were serving Basa instead of Grouper(a much cheaper fish). Quite a few restaurants now just say Basa on the menu and as it's pretty decent, the problem is solved. (As long as you don't want Grouper.

  5. I remember as a child in Boston, or on vacation on the Cape or in Gloucester, going down to the docks and picking out freshly caught lobster for something like 29 cents a pound, or maybe even apiece.

  6. I have similar pleasant memories, Barb - getting fresh salmon from fishermen in the state of Washington, and especially going to the docks during Mardi Gras one year to get a bucketful of shrimp from a shrimper for a couple bucks.

  7. A local Los Angeles news station did a similar investigation a couple of years ago. Tilapia was often "mislabeled" as Chilean sea bass or other more expensive species, even at high end seafood restaurants in cities like Malibu. I got the impression that this is an industry-wide practice and that the FDA and other regulatory agencies are purposely turning a blind eye to it.

  8. That explains why the restaurant was so defensive when I phoned to tell them not to serve any more of the swordfish steak that had given us diarrhea.

  9. I remember reading a similar report in the Sacramento area about a year or more ago. One of the local sushi restaurants (Mikuni) was the only one that all of the high end fish that was advertised was actually served and seemed to be the only one that actually served Red Snapper. Obviously, they framed the report and hung it up for everyone to see when they entered the restaurant.

    It's such a sad snapshot of our society where such lying, cheating and greed is so rampant with no fear of retribution or punishment.


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