Seafood: Do you know what you are buying?

By December 28, 2012Ocean News


Reports are showing up all over the Globe about seafood mislabeling; from London to Lafayette, Atlanta, Los Angeles County, New York City, South Florida, Washington DC, and Boston two years in a row!

With mislabeling of year old frozen fish sold as fresh fish to a complete species swap, this practice hurts our sustainable fishing efforts,  and most importantly, could effect our health!


As you all know there has been a push towards sustainable fishing practices and responsible consumption of seafood. The creation of free smartphone apps makes it clear that people care about the fish they are purchasing, and want to make the right choice to protect the ocean. The problem is these apps cannot tell if a fish is mislabelled and a person who is trying to make smart consumer choices may end up eating something that is not sustainable. One restaurant in Boston thought it was buying and selling yellowfin tuna when DNA tests showed that it was selling the overfished and threatened Atlantic Bluefin Tuna! This was obviously a costly mistake somewhere in the supply chain(below), but it shows mistakes like this still happen. When mistakes like this happen, everyone loses; the Bluefin that was processed as Yellowfin did not count towards the yearly quota, and so more threatened Bluefin were removed from the waters than were recorded.


Mistakes like these make it extremely hard for buyers and sellers of fish to ensure they are getting the seafood for which they paid. Sometimes, the vague labeling by some suppliers, are selling more sustainable fish in place of fished that are not sustainably caught, such as Pacific Cod in place of Atlantic Cod. Even if you were to choose Atlantic Cod (despite it’s overfished status) you may be paying top dollar to eat Pacific Cod.

Environment sustainability aside, this new study breaks the trust consumers have with restaurants and any fish suppliers. How can we trust seafood providers again?


Alarmingly, some of the mislabeled species could have unpleasant or serious health repercussions.

  1. Escolar has been known to cause “gastrointestinal discomfort” if consumed in portions over 6 ounces due to the gemplyotoxin found in its body. The sale of this fish has been banned in Italy and Japan, and the FDA advises against it’s sale in the US. Your best bet is to steer clear of any “White Tuna” you see on the menu, or only eat very small portions!
  2. Pufferfish can be very dangerous to consume due to the tetrodotoxin found in their livers and ovaries. Trace amounts can even show up in its muscle. If not prepared properly, consuming this fish could actually kill you! Best bet is to stay away from monkfish (ankoh when prepared for sushi, and the liver is sold as ankimo, goosefish, angler, molligut, bellyfish, lawyerfish and fishing frog). This should be easy to do as monkfish is on the avoid list on all seafood watch apps!
  3. Tilefish and Bigeye Tuna is known to have large concentrations of mercury.  Tilefish can contain as much as three times that of Grouper and Red Snapper which it has been a known impostor of; both of which are on the avoid list! This is especially dangerous for pregnant or nursing mothers and small children.
  4. With any food, allergies are always an inherent health risk so it is important to know exactly what fish you are eating.

seafood mislabeling


Even more alarming is the substitutes effects on their local ecosystems

Tilapia, Nile Perch and Farmed Salmon all seem like healthy alternatives, however demand for them has led to unfortunate effects to the ecosystems to which they were introduced. Both tilapia and nile perch have become extremely invasive, out competing the native fish.  I have personally seen the mass effect of tilapia in Florida waters on an electrofishing survey.  The majority of the fish we caught were invasive tilapia, whereas the native bluegill and sunfish were rare to see.  Nile perch introduced to Lake Victoria have decimated the diversity of the algae eating fish, lowering the number of native species dramatically.  Salmon farms harm the environment through the discharging of waste, introduction of diseases and parasites, and protection practices against predators.

The bottom line is that for whatever reason, (long processing times, shady business practices, improper identification) fish are being mislabeled! Chances are if you see a really good deal on a fish, you may not actually be purchasing the fish you want, so steer clear. If you follow the seafood watch advisories, chances are you will actually be purchasing any of the approved choices, and may be tricked if purchasing anything on the avoid list.

Make sure any seafood product you purchase is actually what you are purchasing. If possible ask:             

  • Where it was caught
  • How it was caught
  • What is in season

If these questions cannot be answered, chances are you should probably find a new fish market. 

If you feel as strongly as we do about our oceans and health, SPEAK UP!
Take action and send a letter to FDA’s Commisioner Hamburg today!  AND/OR Send a letter to the US Senate!

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • […] practices. And in some sad cases, you have no idea what you’re buying without performing a DNA analysis. All over the world threatened and endangered species are often sold under common fish names such […]

  • anushath says:

    there has been a push towards sustainable fishing practices and responsible more consumption of seafood. The creation of free smartphone apps makes it clear that people know about the fish they are purchasing, and want to make the right choice to protect the ocean.further more information visits our websites

  • Thanks for the information. You are right that more information directed towards the consumer will allow for better decision making. However, the results of the study covered in this article describe a scary scenario. A scenario where fish are being disguised to the consumer and even the retailer as different seafood where they are only differentiated by genetic testing. A very scary scenario indeed!

  • […] to get it’s act together and harvest only in ecologically-friendly ways. Don’t be afraid to ask retailers or restaurants where their seafood comes from, and don’t be afraid to have a backup dinner option in case they […]

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