A study released early today by the international ocean advocacy group Oceana reveals widespread mislabeling of salmon in restaurants and grocery stores.
According to Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, of the 82 salmon samples collected from restaurants and groceries, 43 percent were mislabeled, and DNA testing confirmed that 69 percent of the mislabeling consisted of farmed Atlantic salmon being sold as wild caught salmon.
The study notes that Oceana found mislabeled salmon everywhere it tested, including 48 percent of the samples in Virginia, 45 percent in Washington D.C., 38 percent in Chicago, and 37 percent in New York City.
Salmon samples were considered to be mislabeled if they described the product as “wild,” “Alaskan” or “Pacific,” when DNA testing showed they were farmed Atlantic salmon or if they were labeled as a specific type of salmon but tested otherwise.
The salmon samples were collected during the winter of 2013-2014, when wild salmon were out-of-season. A similar Oceana survey in 2013 found 7 percent of salmon collected primarily in grocery stores was mislabeled at the peak of the 2012 commercial salmon fishing season, when wild salmon was plentiful in the marketplace.
The Oceana study concluded that diners are five times more likely to be misled in restaurants than grocery stores, and that consumers are less likely to be misled in large grocery store chains that are required to give additional information about seafood.
Also salmon purchased out-of-season from all retail types was three times more likely to be mislabeled than salmon purchased during the commercial fishing season, the study said.
“While US fishermen catch enough salmon to satisfy 80 percent of our domestic demand, 70 percent of that catch is then exported instead of going directly to American grocery stores and restaurants, said Kimberly Warner, the report author and a senior scientist at Oceana. “It’s anyone’s guess how much of our wild domestic salmon makes its way back to the US after being processed abroad.”
The study says consumers can help by asking specific questions at retail shops and restaurants about what kind of fish it is, whether it is wild caught or farm raised, and where and how it was caught. Oceana also advised buying fresh seafood in season, particularly in restaurants, checking prices, and supporting traceable seafood.
“If the price is too good to be true, it probably is,” the study said. “You may be purchasing a different fish than what is on the menu or label.”