Most restaurant salmon may be wrongly described as "wild": Internet Scambusters #699
Salmon is America's number one fish dish, but what you get on your plate, especially in restaurants, may not be what you expect.
In this week's issue, we explain growing concerns about the incidence of salmon fraud and what you might be able to do to avoid being fooled.
We also have a warning about a new version of the famous Nigerian scam, this time purportedly from the Bank of England.
Now, here we go...
The Fish on Your Dish May Not Be the Salmon You Sought
Salmon is salmon, right? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking, but there are also several different varieties of America's most popular fish dish.
And if you don't know your Chinook from your Chilean or your Alaskan from your Atlantic, you could be on the receiving end of a salmon fraud that has nutrition and fishery experts increasingly worried.
A while back -- in Seafood Fraud: What’s Really On Your Dish? -- we wrote about how environmental research group Oceana discovered that many types of seafood were mislabeled, intentionally otherwise, and that as many as 87% of some fish types were wrongly described in grocery stores and restaurants.
Subsequently, Oceana put its spotlight on salmon, of which Americans consume 870 million pounds a year.
The organization discovered that 43% of samples tested were mislabeled. But behind that stark number are a couple of important additional facts.
First, most salmon fraud happens in winter, when wild salmon are only to be hooked in the freezer.
Second, most wrongly described salmon turns up in restaurants -- as much as two thirds of salmon may not be as described on the menu. Grocery stores are nowhere near as bad.
That means if you're eating supposedly fresh-caught wild salmon in a restaurant in winter, there's a strong chance it's really farmed salmon -- unless it was flown in from New Zealand!
That doesn't necessarily mean the restaurant is to blame. They may have been fooled too.
The nub of the issue here is about the taste and nutritional difference between wild and farmed salmon.
We're not food experts here at Scambusters and all we can tell you is that there's quite a disagreement about the nutritional value of farmed salmon.
Many, but not all, experts believe it is not as good as wild salmon and some go so far as to suggest that the conditions in which some farmed salmon are kept and the food and antibiotics they may be fed make them, at best, a poor choice.
What we can tell you for sure is that wild salmon is universally more expensive than the farmed variety, that apart from frozen stocks it is chiefly only available in season, and that so-called Atlantic Salmon don't exist in the wild in the Pacific, only in farms.
Just to make things a little more confusing, the U.S. fishing industry catches enough wild salmon to meet about 80% or more of America's needs -- but we don't eat most of it; we export it to Asia.
That leaves us short of the wild stuff, so we end up eating mainly farmed salmon, much of which is imported from Chile and other producers.
This is the salmon that can ends up being mislabeled as "wild" at some point in the supply chain.
But there's worse news.
It's hard to believe but the U.S. also exports wild salmon all the way to China just for "processing" and then supposedly returning, frozen, to America.
But Oceana experts say that a lot of the fish that's supposed to be returned is substituted with farmed salmon that's mislabeled as wild.
It's a mess, isn't it? And the poor consumer at the end of the chain is the victim of a scam that seems to be taking place on a massive scale.
In an attempt to halt this, U.S. agencies are investigating ways of tracing the origins and authenticity of seafood. New rules are likely to be put in place by September 2017, although there are fears they may not be effective enough to stop salmon fraud.
The trouble is that it can be extremely difficult to spot mislabeled salmon, although there are a few clues:
- Fresh wild salmon is not generally available in winter but, of course, you can find it in abundance in the supermarket freezer.
- The most popular Sockeye salmon is usually much richer in color that farmed salmon; it's also flatter.
- Wild salmon is considerably more expensive. If it's "cheap," it's probably farmed.
There are two other important things you can do to establish the source of salmon you order:
- If you're in a restaurant, ask your server or the chef where the salmon comes from. If they don't know, they've probably not sufficiently bothered to check and you may be getting a farm product on your plate.
- Check labeling in the grocery store. If you're buying fresh, again ask the sales assistant about the origin.
If you're buying frozen, many producers do actually state whether the salmon is farmed, or, if it's frozen, where it was caught.
Furthermore, a number of Alaskan wild salmon fisheries have introduced their own traceability service.
A traceability number is printed on the wrapper and you can go online, key in the number and find everything you need to know about the fish you're about to eat.
Of course, the importance of this depends on your view about the nutritional arguments relating to wild and farmed salmon.
Perhaps, like most Americans, you are happy to eat the farmed variety. In which case, you're better off looking for a "farmed salmon" label. At least then you'll be getting what you paid for!
Alert of the Week
Sorry to disappoint you but the Governor of the Bank of England has not set aside $6.5 million for you.
That's the latest version of the so-called Nigerian scam, in which victims are told they could receive a large sum of money, if they just pay some initial fees upfront.
To try to fool victims, the Bank of England scam message comes complete with what appears to be a facsimile of the Governor's personal identity card!
We can't say if the ID copy is genuine or not, but the $6.5 million certainly isn't. The bank doesn't even perform transactions or hold funds for the public, so don't be tempted.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!