Two teenagers in NYC discovered that some of the fish they'd bought were not as advertised. They collected 60 pieces of fish and sent them off to the Fish Barcode of Life project at the University of Guelph. One quarter of the identifiable samples were mislabeled, including Atlantic redfish sold as red snapper and tilapia sold as "white tuna" sushi. "White tuna" seems to be the new catchall term at U.S. sushi bars, including both albacore (my favorite, and a legitimate tuna) as well as escolar, which is not a tuna and a fish that some people would likely avoid if they knew what they were ordering, as its high oil content can be difficult to digest.
In all cases, the mislabeled fish were marketed as a more expensive, better known fish, which seems to imply it's not just a simple error. It's tough to know where the misleading began -- the buyer at the dock, the manager at the processing plant, the grocery supplier, or the chef? When popular items grow scarce and expensive, there's a strong incentive to counterfeit, be it fish or Dior handbags.
The NYC samples were part of a larger study on mislabeling published this week in Food Research International. The same trend held true for the full 90 sample set: about 25% were mislabeled. I like that both of the girls involved mention only a passing interest in science per se, rather they just like asking questions and finding out the answers. Add a little research funding to that curiosity and DIY spirit, and I should have a Fish Barcode App on my iPhone in the next year.