A new study said that over 20 percent of seafood in the United States is mislabeled, resulting in deception to consumers who fall victim to a bait and switch.
According to Oceana, an ocean conservation organization, one out of every five fish tested (in a sample of 449) were mislabeled. Oceana refers to this as “seafood fraud.”
But a local seafood distribution company is contesting the use of the word “fraud.”
"To say that this is fraud is incorrect," said Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego. "There is mislabeling, but it's getting less and less."
Rudie said the Food and Drug Administration also has statistics on mislabeling as well.
"It's closer to the five to ten percent range," said Rudie. "It is not fraud. We need to educate restaurants and fishermen on different fish species."
The study discovered that in San Diego, fish sold as “halibut” actually turned out to be California flounder, a cheaper alternative that is often times not sustainably caught.
Four out of 12, or 33 percent of halibut samples collected from the West Coast were substituted with California flounder. Consumers thought they were getting halibut and instead were sold a fish that could be an over fished species.
Between March and August, 2018, Oceana collected seafood samples from 24 different states, including southern California.
The research said that sea bass and snapper had the highest rates of mislabeling. Sea bass fell into the category of seafood fraud 55 percent of the time, and snapper 42 percent of the time.
Rudie said he has business relationships with many fishermen in town who would never purposely mislabel their products.
Species substitution in fish was noted in popular consumer options. For example, sea bass turned out to be giant perch and tilapia, Alaskan halibut was actually Greenland turbot, and redfish was Channel catfish.
Other sea creatures besides fish, like lobsters and scallops, were also found to be mislabeled.
Seafood fraud was evident in packaged sea food sold in stores, as well as restaurants.
Oceana said mislabeling was most frequent at restaurants at 26 percent, followed by smaller markets at 24 percent and larger chain grocery stores at 12 percent.
Ocean said that the mislabeling not only tricks consumers into thinking the fish is locally sourced and sustainable, it can also hurt honest fishermen and seafood businesses.
But according to Rudie, the regulations for snapper and sea bass are confusing and that restaurants could easily mislabel their fish by accident.
"If Oceana really knew there was seafood fraud they should tell the authorities," said Rudie. "We have laws to prevent seafood fraud. That's not what this is."