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There's a Good Chance That Pricey 'Wild-Caught' Salmon Was Mislabeled

This means you probably overpaid.


A new study from ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana reveals that nearly half of the salmon sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants isn't what it's chalked up to be. The researchers obtained 82 fish samples from various regions — including New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. — and found that a whopping 43 percent was mislabeled.

In 69 percent of the cases, farmed fish were being sold as pricier and more desirable wild-caught salmon. Other samples were labeled as a specific type of salmon, like Chinook, but testing showed that they were actually a different — and usually, cheaper — species.

NPR points out that "salmon is the most popular fish in America," with almost 870 million pounds consumed per year. For those concerned about not getting what they paid for, there are a couple ways to mitigate mislabeling:

  • Buy salmon yourself at the grocery store rather than ordering it in a restaurant. Oceana's report says consumers are much more likely to get mislabeled fish in a restaurant (67 percent of the time) versus a grocery store (only 20 percent).
  • Only shell out the big bucks for wild-caught salmon when it's in season. Oceana's study was conducted in the winter of 2013-2014, when wild salmon was out of season; comparison to an earlier Oceana study indicates that mislabeling is much less common at the peak of wild salmon season (typically mid-summer), when supply is plentiful.

Even being in the heart of salmon country might not help you: A three-year study from the University of Washington Tacoma found that 38 percent of salmon from area restaurants were mislabeled. Salmon isn't the only type of seafood that suffers from a mislabeling epidemic, either: Another study from Oceana released earlier this year showed that almost 40 percent of "Maryland" crab cakes served in the Chesapeake region weren't actually local at all, and actually used crabmeat from various Asian and Australian crab species.

Fish mislabeling could soon be a thing of the past if Bay Area food analytics company Clear Labs succeeds in its mission: The company uses lower-cost genetic testing to determine whether foods' actual molecular content match up with what the label says. The company's first report on mass-market hot dogs and sausages revealed that almost 15 percent of samples were problematic; for instance, some of the vegetarian hot dogs actually contained meat.