More than a third of the fresh seafood sampled in dozens of New York City establishments over the past summer was mislabeled, according to a group dedicated to conserving the world’s oceans.
The recently released study by Oceana found that of 150 samples of fresh seafood gathered from 81 markets and restaurants mostly in Manhattan, 39 percent was labeled something else.
Among seafood retailers, 58 percent — or nearly 3 out of 5 — had sold mislabeled fish, according to the study. The fraud was more common in smaller fish markets, 40 percent of which were found to have mislabeled fish, compared with national grocery chains, which had only 12 percent of fish on sale mislabeled.
In addition to deceiving consumers, said Oceana, the mislabeling also raises public health concerns.
For example, in at least one small fish market, tilefish, which is on the FDA’s do-not-eat list due to its high-level of mercury contamination, was substituted for red snapper and halibut. Mercury in pregnant women has been shown to be detrimental to a baby’s development.
The highest percentage of fraud existed at the 16 sushi bars sampled in the city, according to the study. All 16 of them provided their customers with some kind of mislabeled fish.
Blame for the deception may not rest solely with the local businesses, according to Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, who claimed in an interview with the New York Times that restaurants were also victims.
“Restaurants would be very concerned that a high percentage of fish are not what they had ordered,” said Moesel. “Unless you’re very sophisticated, you may not be able to tell the difference between certain species of fish when you receive them.”
Similar studies conducted by Oceana in other major U.S. cities found the same pattern. In Boston 48 percent of seafood sampled was mislabeled, in Los Angeles a whopping 55 percent, and 33 percent in Miami.
Among the many kinds of fish falsely labeled, white tuna was found to be substituted 94 percent of the time with escolar, a snake mackerel that has been shown to have laxative effects in some people.
Red snapper was another fish commonly mislabeled, which was substituted for by 13 different types of less expensive fish, including tilapia, white bass, gold-banded jobfish, tilefish, porgy and ocean perch.
The study did not identify the stores and restaurants where the samples were collected, but according to a map provided by Oceana as part of the study results, the majority of locations sampled were in the borough of Manhattan, with only a handful located in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
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