Something’s Fishy on the Menu: Globe Report Finds Pattern of Mislabeling of Fish in Many Local Restaurants

A five-month investigation by The Boston Globe has found that many local restaurants have been, often knowingly, defrauding consumers on their fish orders. Based on DNA analyses from 134 restaurants, grocery stores and seafood markets in the state, the Globe learned that 48 percent of fish sold were labeled with the wrong species name.

The Globe’s findings are a stark reminder of the lack of oversight in the seafood industry. And with the profit dealers and restaurants reap from the practice of mislabeling, their motivation is clear.

“Mislabeling fish is at a ridiculous level,’’ said Eric Hesse, a Cape Cod commercial fisherman. “The dealers and restaurants have a vested interest in keeping the illusion going. Every time they can say they are selling fresh local fish and get away with selling [Pacific] frozen, they don’t have to buy from us. It kills us.’’

In some instances, the label swaps have had health consequences as well–from lacking the as-advertised nutritional value to causing people to fall seriously ill when the substituted fish contained toxins:

In 2007, two customers at a Chicago restaurant were hospitalized after eating a toxin found in puffer fish. They had ordered monkfish.

That same year, a large shipment of escolar from Indonesia was labeled Atlantic cod and exported to Hong Kong. More than 600 people reportedly fell ill after eating it. Consumption of escolar can cause severe gastrointestinal problems because of the type of oil it contains.

The Globe found escolar being sold as white tuna, super-white tuna, or albacore at merchants such as FuGaKyu in Brookline, Kowloon in Saugus, H Mart supermarket in Burlington, and Oishii Sushi Bar in Chestnut Hill.

And for the environmentally-conscious, the sustainable fish a consumer thinks they may be ordering could actually be an endangered fish. At a restaurant in Westborough, the Globe’s testing revealed that the yellowfin tuna wontons on the menu were actually southern bluefin tuna, a protected fish.

Read the complete article here. To read more on the lack of oversight within the industry, check out part two of this series: “From Sea to Sushi Bar, A System Open to Abuse.”

From The Portland Press Herald: An In-depth Special Report on Painkiller Abuse in Maine

In a six-day, multi-story report, The Portland Press Herald examines the impact of a pervasive epidemic plaguing the state –painkiller addiction. Pharmaceutical drug abuse in Maine is among the worst in the nation with nearly as many people dying from overdoses as traffic accidents. The epidemic has  been linked to an upswing in drugstore holdups and home invasions, and has raised significant concerns about the hundreds of babies born addicted to opiates.

So what has the state done? The Press Herald finds that despite the “long list of policies and initiatives” the state has put forth in response to the problem, agency coordination and communication needs improvement.

“This is a silo-breakdown kind of problem,” said Dr. Tamas Peredy, an emergency medical physician in Portland.

Police arrest dealers, for example, but don’t warn the doctors who are writing prescriptions for them. On the other hand, doctors who catch someone abusing prescriptions don’t typically tell the police.

The state could also make better use of its Prescription Monitoring Program, a tool that tracks drugs with abuse potential, the Press Herald finds. Strict legal controls that err on the side of privacy and few staff resources mean the program lacks teeth, and have made it difficult to investigate suspicious prescription activity.

Read the full series here.

Eagle-Tribune Report Uncovers Questionable Car-Swap, Prompts Local and Federal Investigation

On September 18, The Eagle-Tribune reported on a car-swap between the city of Lawrence and the politically-connected owner of Santo Domingo Motors.  The deal involved 13 cars seized by the city in drug busts, including a Cadillac Escalade, Lexus ES 300 and an Acura SUV, in exchange for four Chevrolet sedans the city got in return.

Though it remains unclear who initiated the deal, the paper trail begins with a memo sent by Deputy police Chief Melix Bonilla to Chief John Romero on April 5, 2010, suggesting the trade with used car salesman Bernard Pena, the owner of Santo Domingo Motors.

Bonilla is a top political aide of Mayor William Lantigua and managed his 2009 campaign. Pena co-sponsored Lantigua’s birthday celebration in a downtown nightclub in February, contributed to his campaign during the swap in May 2010, and when he was arrested in December for ramming a police cruiser with a vehicle, Lantigua personally questioned Chief Romero as the arrest happened.

The city dubbed the arrangement, “The swap of cars to benefit the City of Lawrence,” but the Eagle-Tribune’s investigation suggests otherwise. Two of the four Impalas the city received in this apparent sweetheart deal had significantly more mileage than promised, and state procurement laws may have been broken because of a lack of competitive bidding.

In a follow-up article on September 30ththe Eagle-Tribune reported that four state and federal agencies are now looking into the swap, including District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, the state Inspector General’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.