Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Fish Fraud Works


The Most Mislabeled Fish
Red snapper is the most mislabeled fish.  Here, Nobel Garoa, owner of El Oriental de Cuba admits he used to substitute ocean perch for red snapper, but no longer does that. He shows red snapper on the right, and ocean perch on the left.
Red snapper is the most mislabeled fish. Here, Nobel Garoa, owner of El Oriental de Cuba admits he used to substitute ocean perch for red snapper, but no longer does that. He shows red snapper on the right, and ocean perch on the left.
Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It's pretty hard to pass off certain seafood as something else; lobster is one that comes to mind. Yet it's relatively easy when you're looking at less-identifiable types of fish. Here's a list of some of the more commonly mislabeled fish, along with their often-used substitutes [source: Oceana]:

Alaskan/Pacific cod: Asian catfish, Atlantic cod, threadfin slickhead, tilapia

Alaskan/Pacific halibut: Atlantic halibut, blueline tilefish

Atlantic cod: Pacific cod, white hake

Chilean seabass: Antarctic toothfish

Grouper: Asian catfish, king mackerel, whitefin weakfish

Lemon sole: Blackback flounder, summer flounder, flathead sole, yellowfin sole

Red snapper: Caribbean red snapper, crimson snapper, Pacific ocean perch, yellowtail rockfish, madai, tilapia, white bass

Salmon (wild, king, sockeye): Farmed Atlantic salmon

Sea bass: Antarctic toothfish, Patagonian toothfish

Snapper: Giltheaded seabream, madai, tilapia, Pacific ocean perch, widow rockfish, yellowtail rockfish

White tuna: Escolar

Some of the fish most often mislabeled from the list above are grouper, snapper and white tuna. Grouper is an obvious choice for fraudulent substitutions, as swapping it out for Asian catfish, for example, nets the seller four times more money. But another problem with grouper is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes 66 species of fish as "grouper," making it difficult for distributors and restaurateurs to know what's what [source: Lou].

In the Oceana study, an astonishing 87 percent of snapper samples were mislabeled, making it the most mislabeled type of fish. Tuna came in second, with a 59 percent mislabeling rate. White tuna is especially problematic. It's not even a real fish species. Albacore tuna is, and that's considered white meat, which is how the term "white tuna" came into existence. Escolar is almost always slipped in as white tuna's substitute, though escolar is banned by the FDA because it acts as a laxative [sources: Goetz, Oceana].


More to Explore