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False fish

(article, Culinate staff)

A while back, intrepid teenagers made news headlines for getting all '"CSI"' on their food, sending samples off to labs and discovering that fish were mislabeled in restaurants and fish markets as well as ordinary grocery stores. Now comes a similar report, conducted over five months by the Boston Globe, busting local restaurants and markets for the same skulduggery:

bq. The Globe collected fish from 134 restaurants, grocery stores, and seafood markets from Leominster to Provincetown, and hired a laboratory in Canada to conduct DNA testing on the samples. Analyses by the DNA lab and other scientists showed that 87 of 183 were sold with the wrong species name — 48 percent.

Naturally, the mislabeling was generally done to make a profit, putting a fancy name on a pedestrian product, such as the sablefish masquerading as butterfish at Ming Tsai's popular Asian restaurant, Blue Ginger. But as the Globe noted, there's more at stake here than just consumers getting their pockets picked:

bq. Massachusetts consumers routinely and unwittingly overpay for less desirable, sometimes undesirable, species — or buy seafood that is simply not what it is advertised to be. In many cases, the fish was caught thousands of miles away and frozen, not hauled in by local fishermen, as the menu claimed. It may be perfectly palatable — just not what the customer ordered. But sometimes mislabeled seafood can cause allergic reactions, violate dietary restrictions, or contain chemicals banned in the United States. . . . Mislabeling can also result in consumers unknowingly eating species of fish whose existence may be in peril.

In the absence of clear regulations about seafood labeling, what's the average fish-eater to do? Buy frozen fish at grocery stores, suggests the Globe; these fish products were the most accurately labeled.

Also, consider moving to Oregon, which just enacted the strictest water-quality rules in the nation in an effort to clean up not just local waterways but local fish, too.