Do you prefer wild-caught salmon or the farm-raised variety? If you prefer wild-caught, you are probably paying more for the privilege. In that case, a new study from the environmental group Oceana suggests that you may not always be getting what you are paying for.
Oceana tested the DNA of 82 samples of salmon gathered from restaurants and grocery stores during the winter of 2013-2014 and found that a whopping 43% of them were mislabeled. The majority of the mislabeling (69%) involved farm-raised salmon being represented as higher-priced wild-caught salmon. Diners who ordered salmon in restaurants were misled a staggering two-thirds of the time, while grocery stores only had a 20% rate of mislabeling. Larger grocery stores were better at labeling correctly than their smaller counterparts.
The results may reflect the seasonal nature of fresh fish. Wild salmon are in season and plentiful from May through September. A similar labeling test run by Oceana earlier in 2013 during the sockeye salmon season found that only 7% of 384 samples were mislabeled. When wild-caught fish are out of season, the likelihood of finding farm-raised fish mislabeled in its place is considerably higher.
Consumers should be suspicious of wild-caught salmon that has a relatively low price out-of-season. Unscrupulous vendors can easily mislead the public, but in fairness, the mislabeling is probably unintentional in most cases. There is little traceability in the supply chain for fish, in large part because the majority of wild-caught salmon in the US is exported for processing overseas in order to cut costs. After exporting, it is very difficult to determine how much of our wild salmon returns to the US with the correct labeling.
Fishermen are caught in the middle, since mislabeling punishes those who abide by the rules.