DNA & fish labeling

Two students at New York’s Trinity school made a surprising discovery when they used a new genetic barcoding method to test fish sold in fish stores and served in restaurants on Upper Manhattan. Out of 60 different samples, 14 turned out to be mislabeled.

The study was made as a part of a school project by high-school students Kate Stoeckle, 18, and Louisa Strauss, 17 who sent their collected specimens to the University of Guelph in Canada for analysis. Four samples could not be identified by the genetic barcoding identification technique, but out of the remaining 56 samples no less than 25 percent turned out to be sold under false label.

All 14 cases of erroneously labelled fish were comparatively cheap fish being sold as a more expensive and sought after species, which pretty much rules out innocent human error. Sly New York fish shops and restaurants are clearly profiting from purchasing cheap fish and knowingly renaming it.

One Upper Manhattan sushi restaurant did for instance serve their guests Mozambique tilapia when they ordered White tuna, while another restaurant in the same area had Mediterranean Red mullet on the menu but Spotted goatfish from the Caribbean Sea on the plates.

Not getting what you pay for or living under the false impression that White tuna tastes like Mozambique tilapia is naturally problematic, but this type of mislabelling is not only a problem for fish loving Manhattanites – it poses a risk for endangered fish species as well. As more and more consumers actively chose not to order endangered species, this type of fraudulent labelling makes it possible for restaurants and fish shops to keep purchasing endangered fish from fishing fleets and selling it off as non-endangered species to unsuspecting customers.

Stoeckle and Strauss did for instance find two specimens of the endangered Acadian redfish (Sebastes fasciatus) sold as Red snapper. While the Red snapper may also be getting increasingly rare along the North American coast, the Acadian redfish has been listed as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 1996.