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.