Quebecers buying fish in local restaurants and stores don't actually get the species that’s labelled a third of the time, according to an investigation by Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The DNA tests conducted by ministry officials between November 2013 and March 2014 found 39 cases of wrongly identified fish out of 121 samples taken from restaurants, fish markets and grocery stories around Quebec.
Fifteen of those 39 cases were attributed to errors in translation from English to French on labels while the other 24 involved the deliberate marketing of the wrong fish.
"What's advertised on the menu should correspond with the product that's served," said Johanne Minville, an advisor in food safety with Quebec's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Fines were levied against those found substituting one fish for another and the Ministry of Justice was notified, she said.
Minville said follow-up inspections found no further evidence of substitutions.
John Meletakos, owner of La Mer fish market on René-Lévesque Boulevard East, said the numbers are high, but they’re lower than they were 10 to 15 years ago.
“It seems it’s still a problem. People are misrepresenting fish, and it’s an easy product to misrepresent,” he said.
Meletakos told CBC Radio’s Daybreak that the errors aren’t mistakes.
“They do it for better profits, I guess. American red snapper filets are very expensive and if you can sell an inferior fish or a different fish like a tilapia filet as red snapper, then you can increase your profits tremendously,” he said.
The misrepresented fish is often sold at a discounted price from what it would cost if it was actually the real thing.
“They’re not selling it at the price of real American red snapper, they’re selling it cheaper. But the customer thinks they’re buying red snapper at $10 a pound, when in fact they should be paying almost $30 a pound,” he said.
Meletakos said consumers should be cautious of fish priced lower than its normal market value.
“If it’s too good to be true then you have to figure that something is not right,” he said.
He also advised asking your local fishmonger questions about the species you’re buying.
“They should be able to answer your questions, they should know where they’re getting their fish. And it’s better to buy your fish from a dedicated fishmonger, because that’s his livelihood, that’s his business and he knows what he’s talking about,” Meletakos said.
Anyone who suspects an establishment of selling fishy fish can call the ministry at 1-800-463-5023.
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