Fish Scandals: Guardian Warns Fake Fish Frauds Spoiling Dinners

The Guardian, consistently one of the most reliable news organizations on the planet, has been reporting what appears to be a very fishy story: fake fish at the fish market and on your plate.

In a story that appeared in today’s Guardian, we are being told that depending upon the breed of fish and the country where it is eaten, anywhere from 25% to 50% (or more) of the fish you eat may not be the fish you thought you bought, and this is a problem that permeates the wholesale fish industry, retail fish sales, and the restaurant trade.

It’s no laughing matter when you get a serving of the sometimes lethal pufferfish masquerading as other fish. Fresh pufferfish tastes, well, according to those who have tasted it, rather like chicken (no, really) but it was found in Italy five years ago masquerading as squid. (Not having ever eaten either, I really don’t know how that switcheroo might be accomplished.)

Since ill-prepared pufferfish are actually often fatal to the consumer, it is pretty obvious that unknowingly eating pufferfish means that by the time you figure out that you were poisoned with pufferfish toxin, you would probably be dead already.  There are also many other fish-substitutions that can be injurious to your health.

Adding more smoke to the fire, the high turnover in commercial kitchens often means that the people preparing your fish entre don’t really know the difference between the fish they think they are giving you and the fish you are actually getting.

Much of the nefarious fish-switching takes place in ocean-going processing plants, far from the prying eyes of regulators. When the fish get to the fish sellers and the restaurants, they are usually still in a recognizable form but once the fish filleted it’s difficult to differentiate between cod and flounder.

The best way to protect yourself from fake fish is to keep track of the spot market prices for the kinds of fish you like. Whenever you are offered a favorite fish at a price that is well below the market price for that item, order something else.

The late Anthony Bourdain frequently inveighed against ordering fish at all in most restaurants and advised diners not to eat fish on Mondays because that fish was probably leftover from Friday’s delivery. He recommended that you eat fish out only from Tuesday through Thursday and maybe Friday.  Unless you have access to a place like Legal Sea Food, the legendary Somerville fish market that expanded into a national chain of fish restaurants,  that’s good advice.

Better advice: don’t eat fish unless you catch it yourself. It’s fresher, healthier, and a whole lot cheaper until you factor in the cost of the boat and the equipment.

Click here to read The Guardian’s story about fake fish