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The “Sushi Scam”

sushiA new study from researchers at UCLA and Loyola Marymount, found that 47 percent of the fish ordered at 26 different Los Angeles sushi restaurants was mislabeled.

From 2012 to 2015, researchers from UCLA tested 364 samples of 10 popular varieties of fish used for sushi. Students from UCLA’s Introduction to Marine Science class were sent to the various restaurants where they would take samples of the fish they were served. These samples were then placed in prepared vials for DNA testing.

The study showed that only one of 48 tuna samples was not tuna, however, different kinds of tuna were often substituted. For example, of nine orders of yellowfin tuna they found that seven were a different kind of tuna (usually bigeye). Ordering salmon was usually a safe bet, with only 6 of 47 orders going awry.

All orders of halibut and red snapper failed the DNA tests. 90% of the halibut samples turned out to be flounder, and 77% of the red snapper samples were actually red seabream.

The study also included a one-year sampling of fish purchased at premium grocery stores. Similar mislabeling rates where found there as well, suggesting that the bait-and-switch may be occurring earlier in the supply chain.

“The drivers behind seafood mislabeling are varied,” said the study’s author, Demian Willette. “Mislabeling can be unintentional, resulting from species misidentification, incorrect assignment of a common vernacular name, or the loss of product information during exchanges within the supply chain. However, mislabeling can also be deliberate to augment profit or launder illegally captured fish into the food trade. Understanding exactly how species substitution occurs is complicated by the fact that it can happen at any point in the supply chain, from fisherman to retailer.”

How do you feel about this? Do you feel scammed when you pay extra for halibut or red snapper, and wind up getting flounder or red seabream? I know that I do!