Fish Fraud: What Are You REALLY Eating?

Fish fraud is the underhanded practice of substituting lesser priced fish for higher-end species, and it is not a new one. I remember when people still tried to pass off surimi as real crab meat. Restaurants sell scrod as if it were a fish and not the size of one (no it does not mean Small Catch of the Day). I’ve heard stories of switching smoked cod for a real finnan haddie and how fake scallops were stamped out of skate wings, but I’ve never seen it.

Today fish fraud seems to be rampant in the restaurant industry and flies in the face of the various marketing gimmicks that are supposed to make the customer feel good about their purchase. Restaurants have been caught using farm-raised Atlantic salmon in place of wild-caught Alaskan salmon. I’ve seen farm-raised salmon from Scotland sold as wild caught Scottish salmon on a hotel menu. Swai, the blandest fish I’ve ever tried has been used throughout the US to replace tilapia, grouper, cod and even halibut on menus.

To be fair, many fish fillets look similar, and most restaurants are at the mercy of their fish dealer. If you ordered five days’ worth of cod fillets, you expect it to be cod. Now, if your dealer can’t get local cod, or any cod, and offers you pollock…you better not sell it as cod! According to this report, that is exactly what is happening. You are more likely to get ripped-off in restaurants than at fish markets.

Fish Fraud is Bad for Everyone

Fish fraud is bad for the consumer, but it is also bad for our fishermen. As the son of a Gloucester fisherman, I never understood how fish gets more expensive the farther away you get from the guy who caught it. The fish didn’t get any fresher in that time, and it seems that sometimes, it can also magically change species!

Redfish Ocean Perch seafood rebranding fish fraud NOAA
Redfish – not Red Snapper: credit NOAA

The fishermen are getting paid ocean perch (redfish) prices, but the consumer is paying as if it were red snapper. They figure: Hell, once its blackened or covered in some sort of sauce, you’re not going to know the difference anyway…right?

And don’t think this is just happening away from the ocean, where people are not as familiar with fresh seafood. This is going on all around us.

Massachusetts is home to plenty of great seafood and so it shocked me how blatant the problem of fish fraud is here. This was something I expected away from so many sources of good seafood, not right under the nose of the Sacred Cod. I would never complain switching haddock for cod, I like haddock better. But why lie? All the more reason to buy local, with the fewest middlemen as possible. It’s hard to change species when it goes from boat, to wharf, to you. Too bad you can’t bring in your own fish to the restaurant…