It’s still happening: A new study published by the nonprofit group Oceana found that approximately a third of fish samples retrieved from restaurants and markets were not actually the fish they were claimed to be. DNA tests of 120 samples purporting to be red snapper at sushi bars and full-service restaurants, for example, returned a staggering 28 distinct species, including 17 “that were not even in the snapper family,” the Times reports. Probably the worst finding? In New York, the article says, “fish that was not really tuna was being passed off as tuna in 94 percent of the samples taken.” That’s a lot of fake tuna.
Probably in part because of their long-standing, relatively diligent fishmonger cultures, Seattle and Boston had the lowest rates of impostor seafood. Restaurants across the board — particularly those that can sashimi-slice, batter-fry, or otherwise just cut a filet to disguise its true nature — seem to be among the worst offenders. These are the folks who serve you hoki and say its cod, or exchange pollock for scrod. Tilapia, which is cheap, is most often gussied up and sold as a more expensive filet, is a relatively benign deception, compared to the practice of those who sell tilefish as halibut, because the former fish is known to contain relatively high mercury levels.
There are proverbially numerous fish in the sea, and the study’s authors still are not entirely sure where along the food system the most deception takes place. Some restaurants may slice and dice away, unaware of the fraud on their cutting board — it may happen on fishing boats, remote processing plants, or in immense warehouses filled with pallets of frozen filets culled from the deep waters of the world. With any luck, Oceana will ready its nets and reel in those offenders next.