If you ordered Alaskan sockeye salmon for your entree the next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, would you be able to tell if the fish wasn’t exactly what you wanted? If you’re familiar with different types of fish, you may notice that the color of the salmon is a little lighter if it’s not Alaskan sockeye (sockeye has a pronounced deep orange or red hue). Other types of salmon filets are also not as thin as sockeye.
Would you know if you weren’t getting real king salmon? This fish, also known as chinook and has a lighter color, like Atlantic salmon. King salmon is thick, has a high fat content, and is considerably more expensive than your average salmon dinner However, the average diner probably wouldn’t question whether their salmon was “real.” It seems that many restaurants are counting on that. A recent report released by Oceana, you’re more likely to be sold “fake” salmon if you order the entree in the winter.
In Oceana’s latest quest to reveal fraudulent practices in seafood, the organization collected and tested 82 samples of salmon from grocery stores and restaurants in Washington, D.C. , Virginia, New York and Chicago. The samples were taken between December of 2013 and March of 2014. The results revealed that 43 percent of the samples were not labeled properly, and that the mislabeling is occurring more often in restaurants than in grocery stores.
Further research indicates that salmon “fraud” was even higher during an earlier study in 2013, also conducted by Oceana. This study included 384 samples, and 7 percent of these samples turned out to be “fake.” The study was specifically designed to see how often salmon fraud occurs during the winter. This is the time salmon is not in season, so the market would be in short supply, according to Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana. Warner is also the author of the new salmon report.
“In D.C. in summer, I don’t think we had any salmon mislabeling. Same for Chicago,” Warner said in an interview with The Salt.
Warner stated that Oceana looked at the online menus for restaurants that claimed to serve “wild salmon” and looked for “wild salmon” in grocery stores for the study. Oceana found that when wild salmon was not in season, there were significantly different testing results. Those who ordered the salmon from a restaurant were being misled 67 percent of the time, compared with being duped 20 percent of the time when buying the salmon from a grocery store. When diners were deceived about the salmon they were ordering, it was most likely to be during the times when farmed salmon was being sold as a more expensive wild variety.
A similar study involving the mislabeling of salmon was published in 2012 by Erica Cline, who is an associate professor at the University of Washington Tacoma. Cline found that higher rates of salmon were being swapped for the wild variety during the winter. She also found through years of study that trends in fraud go up and down, regardless of the season. Cline also confirmed in her report that, like Oceana’s findings, there are more incidents of fraud in restaurants than in grocery stores.
Oceana also states that this type of fraud presents a serious economic issue. Customers who love salmon aren’t getting what they pay for each time they eat out, and responsible fisherman are compelled to compete with the “fake” salmon sales. According to the Oceana report, the fisherman are “receiving less cash than they should be for their hard-won catch.”
Warner also states that this presents an environmental issue for consumers who are trying hard to eat the healthiest seafood. These customers also consult seafood sustainability ratings like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which ranks seafood with ratings like “best choice,” “good alternative” or “avoid”
“If someone is trying to purchase something rated as a ‘best choice,” like a wild Alaskan salmon, and is getting in its place something from a foreign country that has problems with sea lice or antibiotic use–if farmed–or was caught illegally, it could have serious consequences,” Warner said.
Salmon is America’s most popular fish, and people in the U.S. consume about 870 million pounds of salmon every year. About two-thirds of the fish comes from salmon farms that are grown outside of the U.S., even though fisherman in America catch enough salmon to take care of 80 percent of the demand for the fish in the United States.
Oceana is calling for the President’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud to include salmon as a high-risk species for fraud. Oceana also wants to expand the documentation requirements for salmon.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and is one of the foods that can help to prevent heart disease and high cholesterol, both of which are serious issues in the African-American community. Purchasing salmon from specialty grocery stores that are known for providing quality products could reduce the chances of buying salmon that has been mislabeled.