Oceana reveals sushi mislabeling

By on March 26, 2013

The spicy tuna roll at the local sushi restaurant may be filled with fake tuna.



Oceana, a non-profit ocean conservation and advocacy organization, conducted a nationwide study where fish were genetically tested. The results revealed an excessive amount of fish fraud, and tuna is not the only fish that is being mislabeled.

In the study, 1,213 fish samples were tested from sushi bars, restaurants, and retail outlets from 2012-2012. Out of the seafood samples , 33% were mislabeled.

Sushi restaurants have the highest mislabeling rate at 74% and grocery stores with the lowest at 18%. Miscellaneous restaurants had a rate of 38%.

Southern California, Boston, Austin, and New York City topped the list of areas with the highest mislabeling rate. Birmingham, AL was not mentioned in the study or national report.

“I personally know of two sushi restaurants in Birmingham that sell tilapia in place of higher priced fish,” said Kelly Viall, co-owner of Birmingham Sushi Classes.

Sushi restaurants were found to mislabel fish 74% of the time. Sushi bars profit by selling cheaper or less known fish by marketing it as a popular fish species. Tuna and red snapper topped the list for being substituted, frequently with bottom feeders such as tilapia. Out of every 120 red snapper samples, seven were actually red snapper.

Mislabeling fish poses a number of health risks for consumers. Escolar, a mackerel fish frequently substituted for tuna, causes anal leakage and was banned by the FDA until 1992. At 100% of the sushi bars tested in New York City, 94% of white tuna was sold as escolar.

Other concerns are the mercury levels of substituted fish, a particular problem for pregnant women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid mercury-rich fish.

Mislabeling or misbranding food violates federal law and state food health laws for the purpose of potential allergens, false nutritional information, potential financial gain, misrepresentation of species and more.

Fish fraud disrupts the count of fish species in oceans and waterways, creating a problem of what species are listed as endangered. Fish mislabeling also hurts honest fishermen and discredits the fishing industry.

Oceana is currently fighting seafood fraud by releasing its national report to the public and appearing on popular media outlets, such as “The Dr. Oz Show.”

According to Oceana’s national report, 90% of fish is imported and less than 1% is tested for fraud. Oceana urges for concerned citizens to call upon lawmakers to make seafood more traceable and appropriately labeled.

Oceana representatives are asking the organization’s email list members to “tell your representatives to stop seafood fraud today.” The email includes a link to the national report and a pre-written letter that concerned citizens can send to their senators.

Kaylyn Alexander
Staff Writer

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