The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Are You The Victim of Fish Fraud?

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 22, 2013 7:20PM

Do you know what fish this is? We don't. Photo via Shutterstock.

When you go to the seafood counter and see all the glistening fish with their pretty labels, you're focused on cooking, not on biology. But how many of us really know what different fish look like when they are on ice? Heck, how many of us know what different fish look like in the water? Well, it turns out that we may have been duped. According to WBEZ, 32 percent of fish tested at Chicago markets were found to be mislabeled.

We're not just talking about the difference between farmed and wild salmon. This would be like buying "salmon" and finding out it was pollock. Based on DNA tests performed by Oceana, an ocean conservation non-profit, "Snapper was a scam in 87 percent of the samples, and 59 percent of tuna was actually another fish." If you're at a sushi bar, it's even worse. 74% of the fish at sushi bars was mislabeled.

Chicago was noted in the study for its “unusual seafood substitutions.” In one case, a fish sold as Alaskan cod turned out to be the charmingly-named threadfin slickhead, a fish not even known to be sold in the U.S. And while most red snapper scams substitute rockfish and tilapia, two Chicago grocery stores were peddling the far less common goldbanded jobfish and slender pinjalo as red snapper.

This isn't just a Chicago problem. Nationwide, 33% of fish is mislabeled. Oh, and that salmon? 2/3 of salmon labeled "wild" is actually farmed. There's no way to know yet where in the supply chain the changes are made, but Oceana is calling for better tracking systems and more transparency in the supply chain.

For those who want to make sustainable seafood choices, this can make things tough. Plus that whole "consumer fraud" thing. Our best suggestions? Find an independent fish store that you trust, and consider doing some research into what fish actually look like when filleted. Buy from reputable sellers and ask a lot of questions.

Check out the Chicago section of the Oceana report below.

Oceana Fish Study - Chicago by