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CAPITOL WEEKLY: Something fishy in the seafood?
April 18, 2012
By John Howard
There's something fishy going on with Southern California seafood.
Oceana, an international ocean-protection group, reported it collected seafood samples at grocery stores, restaurants and sushi spots in L.A. and Orange counties in the spring and winter of 2011. The goal was to determine whether the food was accurately labeled under state and federal law.
“The targeted species included those that were found to be mislabeled from previous studies and those with regional significance, namely wild salmon, Dover or other regional soles, red snapper, yellowtail and white tuna,” Oceana reported.
More than half – 55 percent -- of the 119 samples collected were mislabeled under federal guidelines. The catch included 18 different types of fish and fraud was detected in 11 categories, “with snappers, white tuna and yellowtail being the most frequently mislabeled,” Oceana said.
“Snapper,” particularly, is an elastic term. Each of the 34 fish sold with the word “snapper” in the label was mislabeled under federal rules. “Even according to California law, only one 'Pacific red snapper' was labeled properly,” according to the report.
Among the findings:
--None of the 10 species substituted for snapper in the study are among the 47 fish species that the federal government allows to be marketed nationally as “snapper.”
--Consumers buying fish labeled as “red snapper” (or any other type of snapper) in Southern California could receive anything from farmed tilapia to pollock, in addition to
any one of the overfished or vulnerable rockfish species.
--Nearly nine out of every ten sushi samples were mislabeled. The amount of seafood mislabeling detected (according to FDA standards) varied greatly among the three types of retail venues sampled, with sushi venues ranking the highest at 87%, grocery stores the lowest at 31% and restaurants in the middle at 45%.
-Eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as “white tuna” were actually escolar, a snake mackerel species that carries a health warning for its “purgative” effects. Escolar was also substituted for both samples labeled as “ono.”
Sen. Ted Lieu, a Long Beach Democrat, is carrying legislation that would require chain restaurants – those with 19 or more locations – to inform diners of the scientific common name of the seafood, identify the country where it was raised or caught, and declare whether the fish is farm-raised or wild.
The first policy hearing on Lieu’s bill, SB 1486, is scheduled for April 25.