LOS ANGELES (AP) — Widespread mislabeling of fish in the Los Angeles area may mean sushi lovers aren't biting into a piece of snapper when they order it at restaurants, according to a report released Monday by an environmental advocacy group.
According to DNA tests, more than half of the seafood the group Oceana sampled is mislabeled under federal law.
In May and December, the group collected 119 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Nearly nine out of 10 samples of sushi was mislabeled, Oceana found.
Sometimes, a cheaper type of fish was being sold as a more expensive one. Other times, a fish with a health warning was sold as a different type of fish.
In eight out of nine sushi samples labeled as white tuna, the fish was actually escolar, a snake mackerel species that carries a health warning in the United States.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, escolar has naturally occurring toxins and a strong oil in its flesh that acts as a "purgative" or laxative and can cause diarrhea.
In 34 samples of so-called snapper, every fish was mislabeled, according to the report.
"Consumers buying fish labeled as "red snapper" or any other type of snapper in Southern California could receive anything from tilapia to pollock, in addition to any one of the overfished or vulnerable rockfish species," the report found.
California law allows 13 species of rockfish to be labeled as "Pacific red snapper" but federal law does not.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, introduced legislation that would require large restaurant chains to accurately label seafood by species. The legislation is sponsored by Oceana.
The report recommends increased inspection for seafood mislabeling "to discourage dishonest practices along the increasingly obscure seafood supply chain."