As winter approaches, take a second look at that wild salmon entree you paid a premium for in a restaurant. It’s likely mislabeled.
Oceana, an advocacy organization that’s previously found fraud in retail marketing of other fish, shrimp and crab cakes, released findings Wednesday that diners were misled in restaurants when ordering salmon 67% of the time. The most common mislabeling was labeling farmed salmon as pricier, more sustainable wild salmon.
Oceana also tested salmon in grocery stores, finding it was dramatically less likely to be mislabeled — about 20% — and that large grocery stores were significantly more reliable with salmon sourcing than small markets.
Still, of the 82 salmon samples taken during the 2013-2014 winter in Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Virginia, 43% were mislabeled.
“Eat your salmon in season,” says Dr. Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana and one of the writers of the study. Wild salmon is generally in season from May through September. “Time of year makes such a big difference on whether salmon mislabeling is high or low.”
Earlier in 2013, Oceana came up with dramatically different results, finding that only 7% of 384 samples were mislabeled. However, that was when wild sockeye salmon was in season, Warner says. They retested salmon in the winter and were sadly affirmed.
“Of course, salmon is a popular dish — it’s the U.S.’s most consumed fish per capita — and it’s shocking to not be able to trust what you’re eating,” says Warner. Since the fish can only be tested at the retail level, it’s impossible to tell where along the salmon supply chain mislabeling occurs. However, the path from water to plate is often very convoluted.
The U.S. exports 70% of its wild salmon, even though that amount could fulfill 80% of the major demand in the country. The reason? Processing fish is cheaper out of the country.
“There’s currently no traceability system when it comes to salmon,” Warner says. “When it makes its way back to the U.S., it’s just this anonymous salmon.”
Aside from buying fresh seafood in season, Oceana suggests asking more questions about where your salmon is from, supporting traceable seafood and checking the price. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.