Bait and Switch Fish Fraud Practices

I recently got an extreme case of gastroenteritis that came on without warning. I did not have a gurgling tummy. I did not feel ill.  I did not have diarrhea. I sat down to eat an order of blackened tilapia, roasted potatoes and broccoli in an a local restaurant  and began to feel sick just as the food was placed before me on the table.  


Three days later I had everything mentioned above and my doctor confirmed stomach flu was what I was suffering from after just recovering from almost 6 weeks of some other bacterial disturbance. Today Dr. Oz did a segment on bait and switch food practices that threaten one’s health. It made me wonder whether my bout of stomach flu had been brought on by fish food fraud.




Fish food fraud refers to what happens in our perverted food supply when food starts off as one thing but in its life from hook to the dinner plate is mislabeled as something it is not.  Researchers, from the conservation group Oceanasaid that genetic analyses showed that 39 percent of nearly 150 samples of fresh seafood collected from 81 establishments in NY city last summer were mislabeled.   Dr. Oz used the journey of farmed catfish in Thailand that is then sent to Hong Kong to be frozen. From there it is sent to several distributors, both large and small in the United States where the fish winds up being labeled “grouper.”




This happens frequently with fish like cod, wild salmon, red snapper.  Cod is often swiped out with Escolar. Tilefish often replaces Red snapper, and catfish and grouper are often swiped out.


I grew up eating red snapper. In fact, notwithstanding my somewhat evolved palate, my favorite meal is, fried red snapper, red beans and rice, green salad and cornbread.  This was a meal I ate often in Seattle, Washington. But  here on the east coast, I cannot get red snapper for under $20 dollars per pound.  So that limits this joy.   When I buy red snapper however,  I expect that it will be red snapper , i.e. what the seller purports it to be. Once however when the fish did not look like red snapper I asked the merchant if I could see the box the fish had arrived in.  But they would not comply.


If you don’t know what you are eating you may wind up with a bad case of gastroenteritis like me.  Escolar is poisonous and a very small part should be consumed by humans is what the Oceana representative said.  But how can you monitor that if you don’t know what you are eating? When tilefish is swiped out for red snapper, you run the risk of eating a fish high in mercury content. Same question: how can you monitor what you don’t know.



  •  Buy Fish whole.
  •  Even if you don’t buy the whole fish, have them cut the fish in front of you.
  •  Challenge Vendors if you feel you are not receiving what you are paying for. 
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