Repeat offenders found in Mass. fish mislabeling


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
December 2, 2012

A year after a Boston Globe investigation found restaurants and stores across Massachusetts were routinely selling cheaper, lower-quality fish than they promised customers, a new round of DNA testing shows the vast majority are still mislabeling seafood.

Ken’s Steak House in Framingham again served Pacific cod instead of a more expensive Atlantic species. Slices of fish sold as white tuna at Sea To You Sushi in Brookline were again actually escolar, an oily species nicknamed the “ex-lax’’ fish by some in the industry because it can cause digestion problems. H Mart, an Asian supermarket chain found to have sold mislabeled red snapper last year, this time was selling inexpensive freshwater Nile perch as pricier ocean grouper at its Burlington store.

The results underscore an ongoing lack of regulation in the nation’s seafood trade — oversight so weak restaurants and suppliers know they will not face punishment for mislabeling fish. Over the past several months, the Globe collected 76 seafood samples from 58 of the restaurants and markets that sold mislabeled fish last year. DNA testing on those samples found 76 percent of them weren’t what was advertised.

Some restaurant operators who repeatedly mislabeled fish blamed suppliers. Others said naming inconsistencies were the result of clerical errors. Several made only partial revisions to their menus. Some, like at Hearth ’n Kettle in Attleboro, corrected their menus, but waitstaff still wrongly described the fish as local. And a few said the issue was not a priority.

“We’re too busy to deal with such silliness,” Janet Cooper, of Ken’s Steak House, said after several phone interviews during which she could not explain why the restaurant was still selling far less expensive Pacific cod as locally caught fish.

After the Globe’s “Fishy Business” series last fall, state and federal lawmakers pledged quick action to strengthen oversight of the seafood industry. US Representative Ed Markey, Democrat of Malden, filed a bill in July to require traceability of fish from the boat to the dinner plate, but the legislation hasn’t moved out of House subcommittees.

Elsewhere, little progress has been made to protect consumers from paying too much for inferior fish. The Food and Drug Administration, which maintains a list of acceptable market names for fish species, has historically focused efforts on food safety, rather than economic fraud such as seafood substitution. The agency recently began conducting its own DNA testing, but the results so far have provided little insight into where mislabeling occurs in the supply chain.

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