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How Seafood Fraud Tricks Consumers Into Buying Lower Quality Salmon

Fraud is rampant in the seafood industry.

08/01/2017 06:01 EDT | Updated 08/01/2017 13:08 EDT

When it comes to fish, you aren’t always getting what you ask for. And when you buy fresh salmon, you could be getting duped almost half the time.

Oceana, a nonprofit seafood conservation group, did a study back in 2015 and found that 43 percent of the salmon they tested was actually mislabeled.

Most of that salmon fraud ― we’re talking 69 percent of it ― mislabeled farmed salmon as being wild-caught salmon, which is typically more revered. That means you could be paying for a wild-caught Pacific salmon filet, when in fact you’re getting Atlantic farmed salmon.

Other fraud in the salmon market occurs when “one type of wild salmon is substituted for another, like the cheaper chum salmon or pink salmon being sold as a more expensive salmon like coho or sockeye,” Kimberly Warner, chief scientist at Oceana, told HuffPost.

Most of the fraud happens at restaurants.

Oceana found that most of the fraud from their study occurred at restaurants (67 percent vs. 20 percent at big chain retailers). Smaller grocery markets were also often guilty of salmon fraud. Big chain retailers are your safest bet for getting the salmon you actually want. But it isn’t always restaurants or markets pulling a fast one on consumers. 

Sometimes the restaurants and retailers are the victims.

“What we’re dealing with is two different types of fraud,” Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute told HuffPost. “One is species substitution, where the retailer or restaurant is the victim. They’re being defrauded because the person selling them the salmon tells them it’s one thing when it’s not. The other side of it is menu mislabeling or just mislabeling in a retail establishment, and that’s when they say it’s wild-caught salmon but they know it’s farmed salmon. So there’s two distinctly different things, but they’re both fraud.”

Just like with tuna fraud, in which sushi restaurants and certain retailers will sell escolar under the name “white tuna,” salmon fraud is upsetting. But being educated is your best bet to make sure you don’t become a victim of salmon fraud.

Salmon is seasonal.

Just like with peaches and tomatoes, salmon has a season. 

Salmon season runs from late spring to early fall. This is when the salmon are at their peak physical development, ready to make their trek from the ocean back upstream to reproduce.

And so naturally, that season is when the market is flooded with wild-caught salmon, and when less salmon fraud is likely to occur. In fact, in previous studies, Oceana had previously only found a 7 percent rate of salmon fraud, because they were testing the fish during peak salmon season, when wild-caught salmon is more plentiful.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find wild-caught salmon other times of the year. You absolutely can, because it’s flash frozen. However, that “inventory eventually gets depleted and because there are not a lot of supplies to rely on, they start advertising wild salmon even when it isn’t,” explained Warner.

You get what you pay for.

Just like with tuna, the best way to know you’re actually getting wild-caught salmon is by the price tag. 

“Farmed salmon will be less expensive than its wild-caught cousin,” explained Gibbons. “And if it seems like the wild-caught option seems priced too good to be true, there is a possibility that it is mislabeled. That sounds really simple, but that is the reality.”

Oceana also recommends asking lots of questions, because that will inform the retailer or restaurant that consumers do care about transparency with their seafood.  

And if you want to start getting what you ask for, you should absolutely care about transparency.

Also on HuffPost