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Report: Mislabled fish a widespread problem

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 27 2013 07:49:04 PM CST

Mislabled fish posing problems

The business of buying seafood in Pennsylvania has become real fishy. From fresh off the boat, all the way to your dinner plate, somewhere along the way seafood is getting mislabeled. According to the advocacy group Oceana, many American restaurants and grocery stores are passing off cheaper fish for some of the more expensive items on the menus.

"Accidents and oversights do happen," said Ted Heeps, Vice President of K. Heeps inc.

At K. Heeps Inc. their fish is wholesale, so they buy directly from the importer and are heavily regulated. Officials say they go through great lengths to ensure what you get is what you buy. The same can't be said for all eateries or retailers.

"Buying from the fresh market it is hard to have traceability with country of origin and the details," shared Heeps.

From 2010 to 2012 researchers from Oceana tested fish from 647 retail outlets from 21 states. DNA testing revealed 33% were labeled incorrectly. Among the biggest offenders, 74% of sushi venues and 38% of restaurants according to the study.

In Pennsylvania 56% of the nine fish sampled were mislabeled. Researchers found escolar masquerading as white tuna and snapper was actually tilapia. It's a case of the old bait and switch. In some cases they may be ripping you off, but in others the fraud could make you sick. The study says escolar is a species of fish that can cause serious digestive issues for some people. The most commonly swapped fish was snapper, followed by tuna according to the report.

"There shouldn't be anything to hide," added Heeps.

He says when buying fish, check the price and always ask questions.

"Buy from reputable sources, you can specify species, you can specify size, you can specify country of origin and that's the best way to avoid that from happening," explained Heeps.

Or be left trying to tell the fish tale from the truth.