New bill aims to crack down on seafood mislabeling

That red snapper you bought might be tilapia. That lemon sole might be summer flounder. And more than likely, that white tuna is actually escolar.

In response to mislabeling issues nationwide, Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a bill that seeks to crack down on seafood fraud. SB 1138 would require seafood labels to clearly identify the species by its common name, with violations leading to fines of up to $1,000 along with potential jail time. A hearing is set for Wednesday, April 9.

At a press conference Monday morning, Padilla said the bill aims to “better protect our health, economy and oceans.” He cited a 2013 Oceana study, which tested the DNA of 1,215 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. Among the samples, 33 percent were mislabeled. In Northern California, that number jumps to 38 percent.

Some fun study findings: Snapper and tuna were the most commonly mislabeled fish at 87 percent and 59 percent, respectively; 74 percent of the fish sold at sushi restaurants were mislabeled; 58 percent of fish sampled from Northern California restaurants were mislabeled; and 27 percent of fish sampled from Northern California grocery stores were mislabeled.

Geoffrey Shester from Oceana pointed to escolar’s 84 percent substitution rate for white tuna as a major reason for concern—escolar can cause serious digestive issues for some consumers who eat more than an ounce. Not to mention that consumers are charged quite a bit more for “white tuna” than escolar.

Danny Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market, demonstrated how similar fish can look when skinned and filleted. Can you identify the California halibut from the Pacific halibut? Or the wild salmon from the farmed salmon? Hmmmmm…

For more reading, here’s the text of Padilla’s bill and here’s the Oceana study.

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