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Seafood Fraud in California

Study reveals consumers aren't always purchasing the type of fish they think they are, according to Oceana study. Manhattan Beach locations were used in study.

Seafood Fraud in California

Several restaurants and grocery stores in the South Bay have been mislabeling seafood, according to an ocean conservancy nonprofit study released Tuesday.

The study, conducted by Oceana in May and December 2011, found that about 55 percent of seafood samples collected from local restaurants, sushi bars and grocery stores did not meet federal labeling guidelines.

Sampling locations in the South Bay included Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Marina del Rey, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes and Long Beach. Red snapper was the most commonly mislabeled fish, which often was actually tilapia, perch, rockfish or bream.

The most egregious cases were at sushi restaurants, where nine out of 10 of those sampled in Southern California substituted white tuna with escolar, a mackerel species that has purgative effects, according to the study.

The majority of mislabeled fish Oceana found, 45 percent at restaurants and 31 percent at grocery stores, were lower quality species passed off for more expensive ones.

“Consumers are being asked to guess what they are eating,” said Dr. Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana, in a statement. “The public should be provided with more information about the food they are purchasing. With such high levels of mislabeling, it is more important than ever for the government to increase inspections and require traceability of our seafood.”

Oceana has sponsored Senate Bill 1486, introduced by California Sen. Ted W. Lieu, D-Torrance, which would require food facilities to properly identify seafood and would impose a fine from $50 to $500 on those out of compliance.

However, the state would not fine facilities whose suppliers provided them with inaccurate information.

“The extent of seafood fraud found in California should be shocking to consumers, especially those that are paying extra for seafood they think is healthier and more sustainable,” said Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana, in a statement. “If enacted, this bill would provide a powerful first step to help turn the tide on seafood fraud.”

When introduced in February, SB 1486 originally included language that would have required sellers to state the seafood’s country of origin, but that provision was redacted on Monday. The U.S. imports about 84 percent of its seafood, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and only 2 percent of it is inspected.

Fore more information about the study and seafood fraud, visit www.oceana.org/fraud.

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