February 21, 2007, - 1:22 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE ****
This one is not a political issue. It’s a consumer issue.
If you’re like me and love to eat fish (Salmon is my favorite–especially the rare Copper River Salmon, only available two weeks out of the year), you’ll be disturbed to find out that several restaurants in Florida are engaging in “fish fraud.”
Undercover agents for the Florida Attorney General’s office found that a number of restaurants were subsituting undesirable species of fish for Grouper and Red Snapper in what they served to restaurant patrons. 17 of 24 restaurants in the Madeira Beach area did not serve what they claimed was Grouper.
According to The Washington Post, DNA analysis showed that what patrons were told was grouper was actually Asian Catfish, Emperor, Painted Sweetlips (huh?), and even types of fish that could not be identified. Yuck!
And the problem is nationwide:
“This problem is rampant across America,” said Mark Kinsey, a special agent for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who enforces marine resource laws. “And it isn’t just grouper.”
Much of the reason for the questionable grouper, red snapper and other fish stems from a simple matter of supply and demand, regulators and industry officials say.
With the popularity of grouper rising nationwide and the domestic catch at times limited by federal guidelines, restaurateurs have relied on imports to fill the gap.
The quality of those imports has proved harder to control, even as the lower prices — often a small fraction of domestic prices — have made the imports irresistible.
In many instances, not only is the “grouper” in fact farm-raised Asian catfish from Vietnam or other species that swim with grouper, but the filets have shown signs of salmonella and traces of illegal carcinogenic fungicides, NOAA law enforcement officials said.
In December, a Panama City businessman pleaded guilty to marketing more than a million pounds of Asian catfish as grouper, a remarkable volume considering that the domestic annual catch is about 10 million pounds. Yet law enforcement officers said they think larger cases are out there. . . .
In August, the St. Petersburg Times reported that at six of 11 area restaurants sampled, the “grouper” was actually something else, according to DNA tests. One restaurant was charging $23 for “champagne braised black grouper” but was instead serving tilapia.
A television station in Fort Myers and the Daytona Beach News-Journal followed with similar findings.
“People who don’t know us are asking, ‘Is that really grouper?’ ” said Stephanie Berry, a manager at Dockside Dave’s St. Pete Beach, which many locals say serves the best grouper sandwich.
The texture and taste of real grouper are much different from those of the Asian catfish, which is its most common substitute. Grouper costs more because it tastes better. Moreover, Asian catfish filets are often thin and small; those of grouper, a much larger fish, are larger and thicker.
In my case, it’s even more of a concern because while Grouper is kosher, Catfish is not. (Fish are kosher if, when they were alive, they had both fins and scales–which is why shellfish and swordfish, for example are not kosher.) This rip-off can happen even at a kosher restaurant, where they don’t always know what their fishmonger is selling them.
More evidence that you don’t always get what you ordered.
**** UPDATE: A federal agent writes that fish identity fraud is even worse than diagnosed in the Washington Post piece referenced above:
I was a successful restaurant manager before ruining my life by joining INS. Fishswapping was an everyday reality in the business. BTW-there is no such thing as Chilean Sea bass. It is actually Patagonian Toothfish, but that doesn’t sound as appetizing, does it? This is not news to me though. I never eat fish at restaurants.
Tags: America, Beach News-Journal, businessman, Catfish, Chilean Sea, Debbie Schlussel, emperor, Florida, Florida Attorney General, Fort Myers, GBP, law enforcement officers, Madeira Beach, manager at Dockside Dave, manager at Dockside Dave's St. Pete Beach, Mark Kinsey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Painted Sweetlips, Panama City, Pete Beach, restaurant manager, Special Agent, St. Petersburg Times, Stephanie Berry, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the St. Petersburg Times, The Washington Post, USD, Vietnam