Environmental Hazards, Wildlife & Animal Rights

Snapping Up Fake Red Snapper

red snapper
Oceana claims 93 percent of red snapper sold isn’t really red snapper.
Image: Shutterstock

Do you like sushi?  Maybe you at least like fish.  Well, what you see is not necessarily what you get.  If you ordered red snapper, you might want to double-check before biting into that succulent fish.

In a recent study by the nonprofit group Oceana, 93 percent of red snapper sold is something else.  A common switch is dyed tilapia.  Hamachi, or yellowtail, is often fake too.

Why the false advertisement?  Real red snapper is expensive.  It is often swapped with a cheaper fish for profit.

A group of high school kids in New York City decided to test that theory.  They took samples of 60 different types of sushi and scanned them against the growing library of DNA at the Fish-Barcode of Life.  They found out that one-quarter of the fish were mislabeled.  One hundred percent of those were in favor of the seller.

Similar studies from the Chicago-Sun Times and University of North Carolina had equally appalling results.  The Sun Times found all of the tested snapper to be fake, and the UNC test found 75 percent to be phony.

What you order isn’t always what you get with sushi.
Image: Shutterstock

Some real problems that stem from mislabeling are those related to pregnant women and eco-conscious consumers.

The National Marine Fisheries Service rates the red snapper as over-fished and that red snapper fishermen also accidentally catch a lot of sea turtles. The Gulf of Mexico has only 6% of what it needs for a sustainable breeding population. Who wants an endangered species on their plate?

Even if that doesn’t concern you, something else might.  If you happen to be pregnant, you could accidentally eat a mercury-laden fish, something linked to birth defects.  If you don’t really know what it is, it could end up being shark, mackerel, tilefish or swordfish, some of the most dangerous kinds for pregnant women. If your fish is mislabeled, even the omega-3 fatty acids do not make up for the possible harm.

There are a few things you can do so as not to get duped.  Know what your fillets should look like, and choose in-season fish.


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