Sushi fans, beware.
A study released Wednesday by UCLA and Loyola Marymount University found that nearly half of the fish served to researchers at 26 Los Angeles-area sushi restaurants during random visits between 2012 and 2015 turned out to be mislabeled. In other words, that halibut you order probably isn’t halibut at all.
In fact, according to the study, researchers ordered halibut 43 times during the test period, and DNA tests showed that none of them actually turned out to be halibut. All 32 orders of red snapper also turned out to be some other type of fish.
Overall, DNA testing found that 47 percent of the fish ordered by researchers during the study was mislabeled, and a similar mislabeling rate was found at high-end grocery stores — suggesting there may be a “bait-and- switch” problem somewhere in the supply chain.
“Half of what we’re buying isn’t what we think it is,” said Paul Barber, UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “Fish fraud could be accidental, but I suspect that in some cases the mislabeling is very much intentional, though it’s hard to know where in the supply chain it begins. I suspected we would find some mislabeling, but I didn’t think it would be as high as we found in some species.”
According to the study, orders of bluefin tuna always turned out to be bluefin tuna. Of the 48 orders of tuna, only one turned out to be something other than tuna. However, researchers found that some of the orders turned out to be different varieties of tuna — such as yellowfin tuna turning out to be actually bigeye. In two cases, the sushi that was served turned out to be Atlantic bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna, which are classified as endangered and critically endangered.
Out of 47 orders of salmon, six turned out to be something else entirely.
Ninety percent of the halibut orders turned out to be flounder. Forty percent of the orders turned out to be species of flounder that are considered over-fished or near-threatened.
Researchers said the problem goes beyond just duping customers. It also hurts environmental rules regulating over-fishing and could create health risks.
“If we don’t have accurate information on what we’re buying, we can’t make informed choices,” Barber said. “The amount of mislabeling is so high and consistent, one has to think that even the restaurants are being duped.”
Researchers noted that the global fish trade is a $135 billion industry, and new federal regulations took effect Monday governing the monitoring of imported seafood.
“Fish fraud at L.A.-area restaurants and grocery stores can pose health threats if substitute fish are contaminated or contain allergens, thwart consumers who are trying to buy sustainable, and impede fisheries policy,” said Sarah Sikich of the environmental group Heal the Bay. “This study points to the importance of measures to improve traceability and monitoring to reduce the prevalence of fish fraud.”
–City News Service
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