PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s one of the healthiest foods you can eat — with growing popularity — but a new study suggests the fish you’re buying may not be the fish you think it is.

“Everywhere we looked for seafood fraud we found it,” Beth Lowell, campaign director for Oceana, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

Oceana, an ocean conservation advocacy group, collected 1,200 seafood samples from restaurants and grocery stores around the country, including a small sample here; and using DNA analysis found many of them mislabeled- with cheaper fish substituted for higher-priced products.

Among the most commonly mislabeled was snapper, tuna, cod, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.

“I think that’s terrible. It’s like a rip-off to the customer. I really think that’s terrible,” noted Miriam Randolph of East Liberty.

True, but not always easy to detect.

“Just look, how do you tell the difference? I’m not a fish expert. I couldn’t tell the difference if they substituted something,” said Wade Miller of Murrysville.

According to the study, it turns out the biggest problem is not at reputable fish wholesalers like Wholey’s but at restaurants where you have a one out of three chance of getting served a fish you did not order.

Especially when restaurant food preparation can smother fish beyond recognition.

“The more sauce and breaded the fish is, the harder it is to tell the species, especially for fish experts who can’t tell the difference,” noted Oceana’s Lowell.

Oceana found that grocery stores mislabeled fish 18 percent of the time, restaurants 38 percent, and sushi venues 74 percent.

So what can you do?

“Ask about the fish they’re serving — where it came from, where it was caught, what specific species it is; and if they don’t know the answer to that question, you might want to select something else,” advised Lowell.

The study says the samples were collected between May and June of 2012.

In the study, Oceana says they found the following problems nationwide.

  • Only seven of the 120 red snapper samples collected nationwide were actually red snapper.
  • 84 percent of the white tuna samples were actually escolar, a species that can cause serious digestive issues for some individuals who eat more than a few ounces.
  • Fish on the FDA’s “DO NOT EAT” list for sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of their high mercury content were sold to customers who had ordered safer fish
  • Cheaper farmed fish were substituted for wild fish: pangasius sold as grouper, sole, and cod, tilapia sold as red snapper and Atlantic farmed salmon sold as wild or king salmon.
  • Between one-fifth to more than one-third of the halibut, grouper, cod and Chilean seabass samples were mislabeled.

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