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Expert says fish fraud is no fad

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Experts warn consumers to be careful of buying one item which may actually be another species

Eating certain types of fish is banned in some countries

GUELPH, ON. (NEWS 1130) – Have you ever thought something seemed a bit off with your seafood? As we mark World Oceans Day, one biodiversity expert has a warning over the growing issue of fish fraud.

“Fish fraud is when you buy something at the grocery store or at a restaurant that is named one thing on the label but turns out to be a different species,” explains Dr. Bob Hanner, an associate professor at the University of Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute. “That can take a number of different forms. Things like farmed Atlantic salmon being substituted for wild Pacific salmon for example.”

However, it can be more severe. With less regulated supply chains, seafood is where you’ll find the most fraud at both the low and high end says Hanner. “Things like escolar are mislabelled as white tuna. Escolar is a fish that has been banned for consumption in countries like Japan or Italy because if you eat more than a few bites, it can cause a sort of nasty, oily diarrhea,” he explains. “I don’t think people are expecting to get that when they’re paying for sushi.”

Things can even border on dangerous. “We’ve seen some more egregious cases where things like pufferfish have been mislabelled as monkfish and actually put people in the hospital,” says Hanner. “Things like tilapia, another species that is common in aquaculture being mislabelled as sole and other wild-caught species. And that comes back to some of the issues around the health angle of fraud.”

Like unknown bacteria or anti-biotics in your food.

He adds there is also a financial component.

“From the DNA testing work we’ve seen, it’s almost always a species of a lower economic value being substituted for one of a higher value,” adds Hanner. “Some of these aquaculture operations are using antibiotics and using things we don’t want in the supply chain and they mislabel it as wild and they can launder dirty fish and get away with it.”

He suggests your best defence is checking the label for some sort of certification like one from the Marine Stewardship Council.