Food & Beverage

Diners Who Order 'Wild' Salmon Often Get Cheaper Substitute, Study Finds

Tracy Connor
Salmon fraud uncovered

That wild Alaskan salmon you ordered the last time you ate out might not be wild — or even from Alaska.

That's the finding of a study by the conservation group Oceana, which says nearly half of the country's favorite fish may be mislabeled and priced too high in restaurants and stores when it's out of season.

Researchers performed DNA testing on 82 salmon samples collected in Virginia, Washington, Chicago and New York in the winter of 2013-2014.

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They found 43 percent of the samples were mislabeled. The most common switch — accounting for two-thirds of the cases — was selling farmed Atlantic salmon as the more expensive wild-caught product.

A similar study by Oceana during the summertime commercial fishing season, when wild salmon is plentiful, found only 7 percent was mislabeled, suggesting supply-and-demand fuels the phenomenon.

Most of the mislabeled fish was found in restaurants, not stores — probably because large supermarkets are required to provide more robust information about the fish they are selling, the group said.

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Dr. Kimberly Warner, senior scientist for Oceana, said that while the study focused on deception taking place at the retail level, the FDA has found wholesalers mislabeling fish, and processors have been implicated in the past as well.

"We know it happens at all steps," she said.

While Oceana is calling for new regulations that would allow seafood to be traced through the supply chain, an industry group said better enforcement of existing laws is what's really needed.

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"Let's be clear, fraud is fraud," said Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications for the National Fisheries Institute. "If wild salmon is what's advertised that's what you should get. There's no question about it.

"If there is evidence of fraudulent mislabeling, law enforcement should be involved. Cracking down on these types of practices is the only practical way to stop them."

Warner said that consumers can also protect themselves: by ordering wild salmon only when it's in season. The rest of the year, she said, fans of Alaskan can buy it flash frozen.