One of my goals for 2013 is to get hooked on fish because it’s a lean, heart-healthy source of protein and the American Heart Association recommends getting in at least two servings per week. But thanks to the Oceana report back in December 2012, which investigated seafood mislabeling in New York City as part of its “Campaign to Stop Seafood Fraud,” I’m more confused than ever at the fish counter.
Did you happen to catch the report? It found that 58 percent of the fish from 81 retail outlets in New York City sold mislabeled fish, swapping out one species of fish for another, typically a cheaper fish for a more expensive one. Surely that practice isn’t limited to NYC.
Being cheated like that is especially unsettling considering that some of the mislabeled fish, such as tilefish labeled as red snapper or halibut, is high in mercury, which can be dangerous and a no-no if you’re pregnant, might become pregnant, or you’re nursing. It’s not good for the rest of us, either, in frequent doses.
The report determined that consumers are easily duped in the fish section because we’re dependent on seafood labels to tell us what we’re buying. (Guilty!) Aside from salmon, swordfish, and shrimp, I can’t tell tilefish from red snapper, for instance, just by looking at it—can you? I need the fish folks to tell me what I’m buying and I hope they’re telling the truth.
A better idea? Do your homework and learn what fish looks like before you buy it. That’s the advice I got from the Gulf Coast Seafood Coalition, which represents seafood from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. For starters, you can find high-res images of fish varieties on sites such as www.florida agriculture.com/consumers/crops/seafoodproducts.
Bring the fish photos with you when you’re shopping. Then ask the fishmonger, preferably someone you trust, to cut your fish from a whole fish on display, which matches the images you’ve brought along. After a while, you can ditch the fish pics. But they’re helpful initially.
As a backup, learn the price points for various fish. Florida grouper, for example, typically retails for more than $11 to $13 per pound, which is the average wholesale price, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In restaurants, it typically costs $21 to $27 for an entrée at high-end restaurants. If you find Florida grouper for a lot less than that in supermarkets and on restaurant menus, the fish likely isn’t grouper but a substitute fish of lesser value.
More fish tips
When you’re buying fresh fish, make sure it’s fresh with the sniff test. “I always ask the fishmonger if I can smell the fish before he wraps it up,” says Brian Landry, the executive chef at Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orlean’s French Quarter and spokesperson for the Gulf Coast Seafood Coalition. “Fish should smell like the sea, not fishy,” Landry says. Fish should look moist too. “If fish doesn’t look great raw, cooking won’t improve it,” Landry says. For delish fish recipes, checkout www.eatgulfseafood.com.