If you're shopping for seafood in South Florida, you may not be getting what you pay for. An investigation by the ocean conservation organization Oceana found that 31 percent of the seafood sold in that part of the country was mislabeled, a practice that could not only cost customers more money but also put their health at risk.
Oceana representatives purchased 96 different seafood samples from 60 retail outlets in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale-area and Monroe and Palm Beach counties as part of its Stop Seafood Fraud campaign. DNA testing was performed on each sample. Of the 14 species of fish collected, fraud was detected in seven species.
The most-often mislabeled fish was snapper: 10 out of 26 samples purchased were found to be incorrectly identified. The majority of those cases were when the fish was specifically labeled as red snapper. Of the seven red snapper samples purchased, six were other, less desirable, less expensive varieties such as Pacific dog snapper, Lane snapper or silk snapper. One of the samples wasn't even a snapper at all — it was actually sea bream from the Pacific Ocean.
One of the most egregious examples of mislabeling was a fish sold as grouper that was actually king mackerel, a fish that tends to have very high mercury levels. Women of childbearing age are cautioned not to consume king mackerel because the mercury could hurt a developing fetus.
Oceana also found that all of the fish labeled as white tuna was incorrectly identified. One in five samples of supposedly wild king salmon was actually Atlantic salmon.
Where the fish was purchased made a difference, Oceana found. Grocery stores had the best labeling practices, with only 8 percent of fish mislabeled. Restaurants were incorrect 36 percent of the time. Sushi venues had the highest mislabeling rate: 58 percent.
"The results are disturbing," Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana, said in a prepared release. "The continued mislabeling of seafood in Florida shows that inspections alone are not enough. Seafood needs to be traced from boat to plate to ensure that it is safe, legal and honestly labeled."
Ocean's investigation follows a similar undercover operation in February by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which resulted in more than 300 criminal charges being brought against 56 people. The investigation revealed "rampant exploitation of Florida's fish and wildlife resources" including fish, deer and turtles.
Previous investigations by Oceana revealed that only 2 percent of seafood sold in the U.S. is inspected and even less is checked to make sure it is not fraudulently labeled. Oceana has issued a call for greater federal inspection to make sure that seafood sold in this country is "safe, legal, and honestly labeled."