Call it bait and switch, but something's fishy in the New York seafood industry. According to a recent study, over one fourth of the seafood found in New York supermarkets are mislabeled, and what's inside the package is almost always a cheaper species than what's on the label.
The New York Office of Attorney General (OAG) is taking action, but don't expect a solution any time soon. In fact, New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said, "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." So until some solution is found, it's buyer beware!
Over a Quarter of Fish Sold in New York Is Mislabeled
A recent study conducted by the New York OAG, entitled "Fishy Business: Seafood Fraud and Mislabeling in New York State Supermarkets" found that 27 percent of seafood available for purchase in supermarkets was mislabeled, and "typically cheaper, less desirable species than the desired species."
Packages that were labeled with lemon sole, red snapper, and grouper often contained entirely different fish. Unfortunately for consumers, the study was conducted using DNA tests, which aren't readily available to most consumers. So if you are wondering why your home cooked lemon sole doesn't taste as good as your favorite restaurant's even though you are using the same recipe, odds are it's not your technique, it's probably not even lemon sole.
Odds Are Your Lemon Sole Is a "Lemon"
What's a consumer to do? Shop smart when it comes to location and type of fish. Though around half of the fish bought in the New York City and other areas around the southern New York area turned out to be "fraudulent," all of the samples purchased in Buffalo were genuine.
A cook's best bet is to purchase as far away from Manhattan as possible. When it comes to type of fish, stay away from lemon sole. Approximately 88 percent of lemon sole was actually swai; two-thirds of the red snapper was actually lane snapper, and 27 percent of the wild salmon was mislabeled, often turning out to be farm-raised salmon or a "snapper" variety of salmon. Stick to halibut, cod, sole sockeye salmon, and striped bass, which was only labeled wrong about ten percent of the time.
If You're Buying Fish at the Supermarket, Caveat Emptor
The study concluded that five supermarket chains had mislabeling rates that were so high, over 50 percent, that the New York OAG is conducting a consumer fraud investigation. Steer clear of the seafood aisles in these chains, unless you really know your fish: Food Bazaar, Foodtown, Stew Leonard's, Uncle Giuseppe's, and Western Beef. The office also recommends that buyer's know their fish prices. And if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers should demand supermarkets to have precise labeling of their and provide a detailed description of the seafood quality and sustainability practices.
If you believe the fish sold by supermarkets in your area is not what it claims to be, contact a consumer protection attorney. No one should be fooled into buying fraudulent products.