TOP LEFT: Illegal fishing operations
such as these driftnets can harm
dolphins while breaking laws that
protect ocean wildlife.
TOP RIGHT: Red snapper with the Gulf
Wild™ label can be tracked all the way
to the boat and actual fishermen who
BOTTOM LEFT: Spawning fish are
especially vulnerable to illegal fishing.
BOTTOM RIGHT: A piece of tuna sushi
has the potential to be an endangered
species, a fraud, or a health hazard.
(Lowenstein et al. 2009)
Note: Images at top left and bottom left and
right are from “Bait and Switch: How Seafood
Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our
Health,” published by Oceana, Washington,
D.C., May 2011.
Saying seafood is one species when it’s something else entirely
costs restaurants—and guests—real dollars.
BY CLARE LESCHIN-HOAR
ust like chefs who boast about their relationships with local
farmers or artisan food makers, a thoughtful menu can reflect just how
serious a chef is about the seafood he or she selects for guests. Chefs who put some time
into it often boast about the source of their line-caught albacore, trap-caught spot prawns
or sustainable farm-raised trout. And they should. That’s good stuff.
PHOTO CREDIT: Clockwise from top left: Oceana/Carlos Suárez; Gulf Wild™ trackable seafood; Ariel da Silva Parreira; Tony Rath/Naturalight Productions
Unlike some other ingredients that pass through the kitchen, fish is extremely perishable, it’s
often expensive, and the fact is, not all restaurants procure their seafood as carefully or as
ethically as they could. Either unwittingly or on purpose, a bounty of eyebrow-raising dishes
show up on menus from coast to coast, and it’s happening everywhere—from fine dining
establishments to neighborhood joints. We’re not talking about a chef’s decision to serve
identified farm-raised Atlantic salmon over wild-caught coho, or the ethics behind serving a
slab of bluefin tuna to guests. What we’re talking about is outright fish fraud, and chances are,
it’s costing your restaurant and your customers some real dollars.
it’s not what it seems
The problem is so prevalent, recent studies have shown that seafood may be mislabeled 25% of the time,
prompting the nonprofit group Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., to publish a detailed report
on the problem in May 2011. That report, “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our
Wallets and Our Health,” says certain types of seafood are more susceptible to mislabeling than others.
According to the report, “Some fish are much more likely to be fraudulent, including red snapper,
wild salmon, grouper and Atlantic cod. Others, such as tuna, may have mysterious origins due
to lack of information. And several kinds of tuna are sold under one name, including yellowfin,
bigeye, albacore, skipjack and sometimes even bluefin.”
Part of the problem is that visually, (especially if you’re purchasing your fish already
portioned into fillets from a purveyor), it’s hard to distinguish something such as grouper
from Nile perch, red snapper from rockfish or swordfish from mako shark. And because
seafood can have a long and murky supply chain, fraud can be introduced at numerous stops
along the way—long before it reaches your kitchen.
And, unfortunately, sometimes fraud happens during that step between the kitchen and the
guest. The state of Florida takes the issue especially seriously. Seafood misrepresentation
legislation was enacted back in 1957, and since 2006, Florida’s Department of Business and