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Seafood Fraud Rampant in New York City

Seafood Fraud Rampant in New York City


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Seafood conservation and advocacy group Oceana has revealed a startlingly high rate of seafood fraud across the entire country. In Boston, 48 percent of all seafood is reportedly labeled as a different species in stores, restaurants, and sushi bars. In Miami, it's 31 percent, and in Los Angeles, it's a whopping 55 percent. And in New York, according to a report released by the group this week, there’s a 39 percent chance that you’re eating a completely different fish than you think.

Take, for example, white tuna. The odds that you’ve actually been eating escolar are nearly 100 percent. And if you think you’re eating red snapper, there’s a good chance it’s tilapia, white bass, ocean perch, or tilefish.

If you’re thinking to yourself, "Who cares? A fish is a fish," you might want to think again. Escolar has been linked to major digestive issues, and tilefish has been placed on the "Do Not Eat" list by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for women who are pregnant or nursing because of its high mercury levels.

"Without accurate, honest labels that show exactly what fish you are eating and where it was harvested, those who need this critical advice about specific fish will be left unprotected," according to the report.

In many cases, the names of the fishes have been simply lost in translation, which is part of the reason that 100 percent of all the sushi bars tested served mislabeled fish (salmon was generally still salmon, but after that it’s more or less a free for all).

The odds of the report causing any actual change in the industry are slim, but it certainly helps to raise awareness that when it comes to fish, what you see isn’t always what you get.


New York AG: Something Fishy With Fish Labels

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — That wild sockeye salmon in the refrigerated aisle may be straight from the fish farm.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood says in a report released Friday that more than one-fourth of the seafood her office sampled in a statewide supermarket survey was mislabeled, reports CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.

Underwood says mislabeling of certain popular species was rampant. She says farmed salmon was frequently sold as wild and fish sold as red snapper or lemon sole was more likely to be a different kind of fish than the real thing.

&ldquoIt&rsquos clear that seafood fraud isn&rsquot just a fluke &ndash it&rsquos rampant across New York,&rdquo said Underwood. &ldquoSupermarkets are the last line of defense before a phony fish ends up as family dinner, and they have a duty to do more. Yet our report makes clear that New Yorkers may too often be the victim of mislabeling. We&rsquore taking enforcement action, and consumers should be alert and demand that their supermarket put customers first by taking serious steps to ensure quality control at their seafood counters.&rdquo

The attorney general says supermarkets have a duty to vet their seafood suppliers more thoroughly.

Among the key findings, according to the attorney general’s office:

  • More than one in four (26.92%) seafood purchases with an identifiable barcode was mislabeled. About two-thirds of the supermarket brands reviewed had at least one instance of suspected mislabeling.
  • A small subset of supermarket brands was responsible for a vastly disproportionate share of suspected mislabeling. Of the 12 chains with 10 or more samples tested, five had rates of suspected mislabeling that exceeded 50%, including Food Bazaar, Foodtown, Stew Leonard&rsquos, Uncle Giuseppe&rsquos, and Western Beef. These five received enforcement letters from OAG seeking further information, including on their seafood quality control practices, and could face financial penalties.
  • While mislabeling affected virtually every tested seafood category, there was rampant mislabeling found in certain species. The results suggest that consumers who buy lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper are more likely to receive an entirely different fish. Similarly, consumers who bought &ldquowild&rdquo salmon often got the farm-raised seafood they had paid on average 34% more to avoid.
  • The substitutes were typically cheaper, less desirable species. Snappers sold as red snapper, for example, tended to sell for half as much when properly labeled as another type of snapper. Some substitutes (e.g., lane snapper) had higher mercury levels or came from less sustainable fisheries than the intended species, raising consumer safety and environmental sustainability issues.
  • Seafood mislabeling occurred across most regions of New York, but was most widespread downstate. New York City had a staggering mislabeling rate (42.65%) across all samples tested, with similarly high rates of mislabeling on Long Island (40.63%) and an only slightly lower rate in Westchester and Rockland Counties (32.43%).

Ledell and Annette Rountree make it a practice to forego their local grocers and drive to Freeport’s Nautical Mile each week where boats are bringing in fresh catch of the day.

“I like the fish market, I can see the fish and pick the ones that I want,” said Annette. “They are not in a package and I can tell they are fresh.”

Each of the markets cited in the report is cooperating fully and claims any mislabeling was an honest mistake, saying
they depend on their suppliers for accuracy.

Respected fishmonger Gerard Bracco said dishonesty from some gives his industry a bad name.

“They soak it in salt water, brines and various chemicals to try to keep a shine on it, keep it looking fresh,” said Bracco of Captain Ben’s Fish Market.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


Serial ‘seafood bandit’ targeting Connecticut supermarkets: cops

And that’s not the end of the cod job grocers are pulling: Two-thirds of the red snapper inspected was another fish and 28 percent of the “wild” salmon wasn’t wild at all.

Instead, the primo fish were often substituted with cheaper knockoffs: fresh salmon was replaced with farm raised fish, lane snapper was marked as ‘red’, swai was packaged as sole.

The practice was most common in New York City, where 43 percent of the fish sold was mismarked. Long Island grocery stores fared nearly as badly, 41 percent of the fish was foul.

“It’s clear that seafood fraud isn’t just a fluke – it’s rampant across New York,” said Attorney General Barbara Underwood, whose department is trying to can the practice.

The AG’s office cast a long line to catch the fraud, buying fish at 155 grocery stores — representing 29 chains — across the state.

All were sent to a DNA lab for analysis.

The report named singled out five chains where 50 percent or more of the fish was mismarked, including upscale Stew Leonard’s.

The grocer blamed the results on confusion over what qualifies as “red snapper.”

“Until today, my family and I had no idea that an imported snapper couldn’t be called a `red snapper’ as only domestic snapper is permitted to be called `red snapper,'” said Stew Leonard Jr “We immediately changed our signage and our labels once we were alerted to this issue earlier today by the New York Attorney General’s Office.”


What to know now

The Attorney General's Office advised consumers to be aware of what fish they are buying by checking the labels and the pricing.

If the price of seafood seems to be too great a deal, maybe it isn't what the label claims the fish to be, the report said.

"They should also expect their supermarkets to provide precise labeling of the seafood they sell and describe their seafood quality and sustainability practices," the report said.

"The ultimate responsibility for accurately marketing seafood, however, falls squarely on the retailers themselves"

Indeed, the report found that retailers often don't take all the necessary steps to scrutiny wholesalers and the packaging to ensure they are selling what is advertised.

The report did give high marks to Hannaford supermarkets, saying the investigation found "no instances of suspected mislabeling."

Mislabeled wild salmon was often found at supermarkets in New York, according to a report by the state Attorney General's Office. (Photo: New York state Attorney General's Office)


It’s very likely your supermarket fish isn’t what you think it is

Seafood mislabeling is “rampant” across New York, according to a study released by the state attorney general’s office on Friday (Dec. 14).

The attorney general’s office purchased fish from 155 stores across 29 supermarket brands throughout the state, and then sent them to a lab for testing. A remarkable number of the specimens—more than one in every four, or 27%—were not what the supermarkets said they were. Instead, they were often completely different, cheaper, and less sustainably raised species.

People who buy lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper in particular are more likely than not to receive an entirely different fish, according to the report.

  • 28% of “wild” salmon was actually farmed salmon, despite costing one-third more on average
  • 67% of “red snapper” was something else entirely—often lane snapper, a nutritionally similar but cheaper variety. The report notes the lane snapper also had higher mercury levels.
  • Nearly 88% of “lemon sole” was not, in fact, lemon sole. It was often swai, which is faster and cheaper to raise.

“It’s clear that seafood fraud isn’t just a fluke—it’s rampant across New York,” New York attorney general and apparent pun aficionado Barbara D. Underwood said in a statement.

Two-thirds of the supermarket chains the attorney general’s office purchased from had at least one instance of fish mislabeling. Five chains in particular—Food Bazaar, Foodtown, Stew Leonard’s, Uncle Giuseppe’s, and Western Beef—had mislabeling that “exceeded 50%.”

Within the state, New York City had the worst false-label problem 43% of the fish sampled from NYC supermarkets was not what it was labeled as. (Runners up were Long Island, with a 41% fish mislabeling rate, and Westchester and Rockland counties, with a 32% mislabeling rate.)

“We’re taking enforcement action, and consumers should be alert and demand that their supermarket put customers first by taking serious steps to ensure quality control at their seafood counters,” Underwood said.

Fish fraud is not restricted to New York. Little oversight and regulation has led to fish fraud nationwide. In 2013, Oceana, a nonprofit ocean protection group, took 1,215 samples of fish from across the US and genetically tested them. It found that 59% of the fish labeled “tuna” sold at restaurants and grocery stores in the US is not actually tuna.

In the case of that study, it was sushi restaurants that were most likely to mislabel the fish, trumping supermarkets in instances of fish falsehoods. In Chicago, Austin, New York, and Washington DC, every single sushi restaurant the group sampled was selling mislabeled tuna.

White tuna was also overwhelmingly mislabeled: 84% of “white tuna” was actually escolar, a fish that can cause gastrointestinal problems.


Is Your Fish Fake? Report Shows Rampant Global Seafood Fraud

How can you tell that the fish on your plate is the real thing? You can't — and that's the problem.

A new report in The Guardian's "Seascape" series on the state of the world's oceans surveyed 44 separate studies published since 2018, and found that almost 40 percent of 9,000 seafood products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled. According to Food & Wine, the report detailed how rampant seafood fraud has become on a global scale.

The U.S. and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling followed by Europe, Eat This reported. Food & Wine also highlighted how seafood fraud is not a new issue: in 2017, a study found that half of Los Angeles sushi was not what it claimed to be, while a 2018 study revealed that more than 25 percent of supermarket fish in New York was mislabeled.

"And yet, despite government action and the promise of technical solutions like detectors and databases, it's not getting better," Food & Wine lamented.

The studies in the Seascape report used new DNA techniques and tests to ascertain exactly what was ending up on consumers' plates. They found fish substitutions from the same family, such as low-grade tuna species, being sold as higher-valued species, such as bluefin. The lower-value, lower-quality substitutions point to fraud more than error, the report suggested.

There are "so many opportunities along the seafood supply chain" to falsely label low-value fish as high-value species, or farmed fish as wild," Beth Lowell, deputy vice-president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana, told The Guardian. She noted that all the studies found mislabeling in the global seafood industry to be common and pervasive.

There were also substitutions for entirely different species, including Singaporean prawn balls that repeatedly tested negative for containing prawn DNA, and were instead made almost entirely of pork, Seafood Harvest reported. Other mixed seafood products turned out to be similarly mislabeled.

Among the most alarming substitutions were rare and endangered species being marketed otherwise. One study found that 70 percent of UK snapper instead consisted of 38 different species of fish, many of them critical reef-dwellers, The Guardian reported. This deceptive swapping is a problem for coral reefs that already suffer from overfishing of key fish species that eat algae and allow for a healthier ecosystem, The Guardian added.

The final mislabeling category that the Seascape report highlighted involves laundering illegally caught fish. Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist, explained to The Guardian how fish laundering is often linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that threatens the sustainability of many fish stocks worldwide. Oceana's examples of IUU fishing include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife and fishing with prohibited gear. Then, too often, illegal and legal catches are commingled when they are processed aboard ships with little monitoring and less transparency. This makes it nearly impossible to trace what is and isn't illegal, let alone what comprises a specific catch. The fraud continues with relative ease and a lot of profit, Sumaila told The Guardian.

In a press statement urging President Biden to increase transparency and traceability in American seafood, Oceana called IUU fishing "one of the greatest threats to our oceans" and estimated that it costs the global seafood industry up to $50 billion each year. In the U.S., up to 90 percent of fish consumed is imported, the statement noted. This non-transparent, foreign supply chain has allowed for a high degree of U.S. imports to come from IUU fishing, the statement claimed.

"IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive," Oceana said. The Guardian's reporting also found the complex and opaque seafood supply chains to be highly vulnerable to mislabeling that is profitable and relatively easy to execute.

Lowell said in the Oceana statement, "Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea." She concluded that, "All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled. Until then, honest fishermen, seafood businesses, consumers and the oceans will pay the price."

Still, some in the industry have hope. In another article by The Guardian, Organic Ocean Seafood in Vancouver, Canada, was singled out for its DNA testing. Dane Chauvel, the company's co-founder, uses e-DNA testing to fight seafood fraud. Chauvel supplies many high-end restaurants with wild-caught salmon and other gourmet fish, and can prove that his fish supply is legitimate thanks to the world's first random DNA testing program for authentication. This removes any lingering doubt about its origins for his top-end clients, Chauvel said. The test can even identify the origin river of a specific fish sample.

Generally, "The fishing industry is a mess," Chauvel admitted to The Guardian. "It's dysfunctional." He urged others to follow his lead and voluntarily submit their products for testing and authentication. It would be even better if regulatory agencies followed suit, he added. Chauvel told The Guardian, "I hope using DNA testing becomes more commonplace in the industry. It's been a great business advantage for us."


Report: NY Supermarkets Guilty Of 'Rampant Mislabeling' Of Seafood

Supermarkets across New York are pulling the old bait-and-switch on unsuspecting fish fans, according to a recent investigation by acting Attorney General and fish pun fanatic Barbara Underwood.

On Friday, her office released the results of their “Fishy Business" study, which outlined the "rampant mislabeling" of seafood species at supermarket chains across the state. The report found that more than a quarter of fish specimens are falsely packaged, often replaced with alternatives that are cheaper to raise and less environmentally sustainable.

The fish-dupe was most widespread in New York City, where a full 43 percent of sampled fillets were found to be an entirely different fish. Lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper were the most common targets for deception, in some cases swapped with a species containing much higher mercury levels. Twenty-eight percent of packaged "wild salmon" was also determined to be farmed salmon, despite being sold at a significantly higher cost.

Overall, nearly two-thirds of supermarket chains surveyed by the attorney general’s office had at least one instance of fish fraud. Five chains in particular—Food Bazaar, Foodtown, Stew Leonard’s, Uncle Giuseppe’s, and Western Beef—were allegedly mislabeling their fish at a rate of more than 50 percent.

“It’s clear that seafood fraud isn’t just a fluke—it’s rampant across New York,” outgoing attorney general and aspiring tabloid writer Barbara Underwood said in a statement. "Supermarkets are the last line of defense before a phony fish ends up as family dinner, and they have a duty to do more."

The report was prompted by a similar investigation undertaken by a marine conservation organization in 2012, which found a staggering amount—like, literally 100 percent—of sampled New York City sushi restaurants were guilty of fish foolery.

The attorney general promised enforcement action to ensure quality control at seafood counters. In the meantime, this authentic seafood clothesline isn't looking so bad anymore, is it?


Bogus fish is everywhere here's how you avoid the worst of it

By Manny Howard
Published January 26, 2019 10:30PM (UTC)

(Getty/aleksandar kamasi)

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In New York, according to Attorney General Letitia James, if you are buying Lemon Sole, Red Snapper, or Wild Salmon it is likely that's not what you're taking home.

Late last month the attorney general's office issued a report asserting that 43 percent of the time, when premium priced fish — like grouper, cod, halibut, striped bass, and white tuna — fetching between $19 and $29 per lb. is purchased, inferior varieties farmed in foreign countries with very little or no regulatory oversight, costing as little as $3 per lb., is substituted by the retailer.

"I'm very happy to see law enforcement getting involved says," Larry Olmsted, author of "Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don't Know What You're Eating and What You Can Do about It." "Mislabeling is rampant in the seafood industry, and if you can't reliably get the fish you want in a port city like New York, just imagine what levels of fraud are like further inland. This business has had a fraud problem for years and years and the only people tracking it have been public interests groups."

According to A.G. James' report samples from 155 locations were purchased and tested. Farmed salmon samples were sold as "wild" 27 percent of the time. Sixty-seven percent of red snapper fillets were mislabeled and virtually all of the lemon sole (87 percent) were something entirely different. Across the board substitutes were cheaper, less desirable, and less environmentally sustainable species. This while the U.S. per capita consumption of seafood for 2017 has increased to 16 pounds from 14.9 pounds in 2016.

"For white-fleshed fish, supermarkets and grocery stores that are jerking their customers around usually sub-in Asian catfish varieties called swai, panga and basa," says Robert DeMasco, owner of Pierless Fish in Brooklyn, a seafood wholesaler with a client list including many of the country's most celebrated restaurants. These catfish varieties don't even rate compared to the more well known durable darling of American aquaculture, tilapia. "There's no way of knowing how swai and the others are raised, what kind of antibiotics are used on them — though, you can bet whatever it is there's a ton of it being used. There's no way of knowing what they get fed. In Asia — Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam mostly, there's very little regulation and you know what's crazy? Ninety percent of the fish Americans eat is coming from foreign countries."

Compare that to the 18 percent of the total supply of vegetables that are imported, and the less than 30 percent of total beef eaten each year that is imported, and the challenge ahead for well-regulated domestic fishermen begins to take shape.

"For the most part, the fish Americans eat is already filleted," says Olmsted. "The majority of it is already prepared and served in restaurants and we all know that means battered and fried, so there's not a lot of opportunity for consumer education and that's what it is going to take to cut down on fish fraud. This is the same thing that happened with the organic movement, it can be done, it will just take time and the kind of oversight that's being signaled from New York."

The comparison to consciousness-raising around organic methods is apt. There has been a growing understanding about the perils of industrial agriculture in Europe and England since the 1920s, but modern organic farming and husbandry in America was limited to the passionate ad-hoc foodways in hippie hidey-holes concentrated outside elite urban enclaves up and down the East and West coasts. Organic food eventually groundhogged the popular imagination in the 1980s and when it did all hell broke loose. "Everything had 'organic' stamped on it," says Olmsted of Big Food's effort to seize a new marketing tool. "Mercifully, after a real battle, the USDA put rules in place to standardize what organic meant."

Every year since 2000, when the rules governing the National Organic Program were established, consumer demand for organic food has grown by as much as 20 percent. A similar awareness about where fish comes from could, one day, establish a secure supply chain for seafood, says DeMasco.

"In the fish business there are words that sell fish. 'Snapper' is one of those words. Another word is 'grouper.' It is really hard to sell a fish that is not called snapper or grouper, so of course they're the most ripped-off fish in the store, but people just aren't interested in lieu de mer, or even pollack, really. Turbot? That's a nice fish," says Demasco. "Very hard to sell."

"On menus people like descriptions. I think it's the romance, the story in their head," DeMasco continues. "'Line-caught' this, 'day boat' that.' 'Diver scallops' is a big one. People love a diver in a wetsuit getting their scallop for them. There are some, sure. I know a lot of the guys. But how many menus in this city, this country have a 'diver scallop' on it? There aren't that many divers. No. Scallops are dredged. 'Dredged?' Dredged is not a sexy word."

"If you make an effort to educate yourself, if you seek out a local fish market and you talk to the guy about the whole fish on display, say a red snapper, which is a fish that is swapped out all the time, then you're way ahead of the game," says Chef Bill Telepan of Oceana restaurant in midtown, and the Executive Chef at Wellness In Schools, a non-profit that educates kids about sustainability and food security. "You can ask them to fillet it for you if you're not ready to do that. It costs a little bit more but you know what you're getting. Also, learning a little about the seasons for wild seafood goes a long way."

Maybe there's a bright side of a significant and pervasive fraud ongoing against the American consumer. It does indicate a demand for antibiotic and chemical-free protein, and we could almost all do with a little break from beef in our diet.

"I'm a big fan of some of the branding efforts that are going on in aquaculture, it makes it easier to identify and patronize the good guys," says Olmsted "there are good American outfits farming salmon, even shrimp. People want this stuff and companies know it, and it's not just Whole Foods, it's Costco and BJ's."

Manny Howard

Manny Howard is the author of "My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into A Farm." @mannyhoward

MORE FROM Manny HowardFOLLOW @mannyhoward


Tests Say Mislabeled Fish Is a Widespread Problem

Fish is frequently misidentified on menus and grocery store counters in New York City, even at expensive restaurants and specialty shops, DNA testing for a new study found. National supermarket chains had the best record for accuracy in seafood labeling, the researchers reported.

The researchers, from the conservation group Oceana, said that genetic analyses showed that 39 percent of nearly 150 samples of fresh seafood collected from 81 establishments in the city this summer were mislabeled. The study did not identify any of the restaurants or stores, although it noted that most were in Manhattan.

In some cases, cheaper types of fish were substituted for expensive species. In others, fish that consumers have been urged to avoid because stocks are depleted, putting the species or a fishery at risk, was identified as a type of fish that is not threatened. Although such mislabeling violates laws protecting consumers, it is hard to detect.

Some of the findings present public health concerns. Thirteen types of fish, including tilapia and tilefish, were falsely identified as red snapper. Tilefish contains such high mercury levels that the federal Food and Drug Administration advises women who are pregnant or nursing and young children not to eat it.

Ninety-four percent of fish sold as white tuna was not tuna at all but in many cases a fish known as snake mackerel, or escolar, which contains a toxin that can cause severe diarrhea if more than a few ounces of meat are ingested.

“There are a lot of flummoxed people out there who are trying to buy fish carefully and trying to shop their conscience, but they can’t if this kind of fraud is happening,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, who led the study.

She said that Oceana’s study might underestimate the prevalence of the problem because researchers primarily solicited samples by asking its New York-area supporters to send in tiny slices of the fish they were eating.

Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, said that restaurants were victims, too, when it came to fish fraud. “Restaurants would be very concerned that a high percentage of fish are not what they had ordered,” he said. “Unless you’re very sophisticated, you may not be able to tell the difference between certain species of fish when you receive them.”

Seafood is increasingly sold on a global market with a long and complicated supply chain. Experts suggest that much of the mislabeling occurs at sea or where distributors cut up a fish hundreds to thousands of miles away, making a filet’s provenance hard to verify.

But Abigail Lootens, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, said that stores could nonetheless be held accountable, adding, “Retailers are under an obligation to correctly identify and label what they sell,” she said.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with ensuring food safety and setting labeling standards, has been working to curb seafood fraud in recent years, developing new programs to combat such fraud in the past year. It has outfitted its field labs with DNA sequencing equipment and has collected hundreds of fillets from wholesalers for testing to determine the frequency of mislabeling and where to aim enforcement efforts.

Among the 142 samples collected, tuna and snapper were the most commonly mislabeled fishes, the Oceana study said. Instances of mislabeling were found in samples from all 16 sushi restaurants from which tested fish was obtained.

The findings are broadly similar to those of studies Oceana has conducted in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami, where 55, 48 and 31 percent of samples, respectively, were mislabeled.

One finding that surprised the research team was that national chain supermarkets offered less mislabeled seafood than regional chains or small specialty markets. High prices were no guarantee of accurate labeling: one restaurant in the highest price range offered red snapper on its menu but, according to Oceana, was serving up lowly tilapia.


Watch the video: Seafood Fraud is Still a Rampant Problem in Canada (July 2022).


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