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Myth: Your spicy tuna roll is made from tuna

name that fish

Original image credit: Oceana
Correct answers are : 1. Right is cod (left=escolar). 2. Right is grouper (Left= perch). 3. Left is swordfish (Right= mako shark). 4. Left is red snapper (right= rockfish). 5. Right is Wild Atlantic salmon (left= farmed).

:  This isn’t completely a myth but because there’s a 1 in 3 chance that your tuna is actually tuna.  From over 1,000 samples collected over the last couple years, a seafood conservation group, Oceana, has used DNA testing to prove that only about one third of the samples taken were properly labeled.  The most commonly mislabeled fish: Tuna and Red Snapper.

What you think is White Tuna is more likely Escolar (aka Snake Mackerel), which has been known to cause diarrhea.  Fish labeled Snapper is more likely tilefish, tilapia, perch or about 10 other species as well.

Who are the greatest offenders?  Sushi restaurants mislabeled 74% of their fish, restaurants mislabeled about 38% and grocery stores only mislabeled about 18%.  Here are a few more startling facts by city:

  • In Boston, only about 18% of fish overall was mislabeled and nearly half of the grocery stores mislabeled fish.
  • In Seattle, only 18% of fish overall was mislabeled and every snapper sample checked was mislabeled.
  • In New York City, 39% of fish was mislabeled and every sushi vendor checked sold mislabeled fish.
  • In Austin, 49% of fish overall was mislabeled and every sushi sample checked was mislabeled.

Hopefully, at this point, you’re wondering what fish is properly labeled.  Great question!  Salmon, Sole, and Cod were the fish most likely to be properly labeled.

BOTTOM LINE:  I hate to say is but depending on where you live determines how likely it is that your sushi order is correct.  Yet it’s unlikely that you’re getting the correct fish no matter where you are.  Not only does this have moral and ethical implications but it also has health implications.  For instance, tilefish (commonly substituted for snapper) has one of the highest levels of mercury of all fish, and pregnant women are advised to completely avoid it.

What can you do?

  1. Buy the whole fish – and know what the fish you’re purchasing is supposed to look like!
  2. Ask questions of your fishmonger – like where the fish is caught, etc.
  3. Purchase directly from fisherman – clearly, this only works if you live near a coast.  If not, purchase from more reputable, ecologically and environmentally sustainable store.  Those markets with policies about fish purchasing (like Whole Foods) may be more likely to properly label.
  4. Be a smart shopper – if a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.



  1. NPR: One in Three Fish Sold at Restaurants and Grocer Stores is Mislabeled
  2. Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide.  Full report or Highlights

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