You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Think you know what fish is in your sushi? Think again

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Jamie Doward
A man eating sushi rolls with chopsticks.: Many sushi bars and suppliers are not correctly labelling their fish for British customers unfamiliar with the new species. © Getty Images/EyeEm Many sushi bars and suppliers are not correctly labelling their fish for British customers unfamiliar with the new species.

Sushi bars and shops are regularly mis-selling exotic species of fish to unwitting British customers, according to new research.

In cases cited in the report, customers thought they were buying a fish from the Atlantic when it was really a tropical variety, while many fish were sold under a generic name that revealed little about where they came from. Some of the species were endangered, while others were so rare that little was known about their population size. The findings suggest that an increasingly complex and globalised food supply chain is open to abuse, putting exotic species at risk.

“This is about transparency,” said Professor Stefano Mariani, a conservation geneticist at Salford University, who, along with his colleague, Cristina di Muri, presented the study at the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Fisheries Society of the British Isles at Exeter University earlier this month. “People don’t know what they are buying. There is now a huge trade in lesser-known species that have not been assessed. We are talking about hundreds of species of fish. We found they are just not being correctly labelled. Imagine how impossible it is for a consumer to make an informed purchasing decision.”

The pair tested samples from grocery shops in Liverpool and Manchester. They found fish labelled as red snapper, a tropical fish used in Caribbean cooking, was actually redfish, a cold water Atlantic species. Some labelled mackerel turned out to be either Indian mackerel, which is found in the Red Sea and Polynesia, or hilsa shad, a type of tropical herring mostly found around the Indian and Arabian peninsulas. Fish labelled as croaker, which is popular in African dishes, turned out to be any one of four varieties that come from as far away as Japan and Indonesia.

“With the croaker there are many species that have not been assessed for the level of stock,” Mariani said. “They could have come from a population that should not be harvested or from illegal fisheries. The suppliers are the main culprits because they know where the fish come from. The shopkeepers don’t have that knowledge. When asked about the types of fish they were selling, most had no detailed knowledge and just said they were selling ‘fish’.”

Two markets in Manchester were found to be selling parrotfish.

© Getty

“We found fish we are used to seeing in aquariums or on reefs,” Di Muri said. “People will be surprised they are eating them. We don’t know about some of these fish species or the populations. As a consumer, you deserve to know what you are eating. Some of these species are not necessarily palatable.”

Mariani and Di Muri suggested that most of the samples identified in their study were unfamiliar to British diners because they had appeared only recently in the UK market, largely because of the growing number of shops catering to different ethnic groups.

A separate study of sushi bars conducted by Mariani found that about 10% of fish sold had been substituted for another species. In addition, critically endangered species of tuna and eel were being sold without customers being told that they were at risk.

“If you just lump fish under some vague term you’re not going to do much to help the consumer know what they should consume or why they should choose certain fish over others,” Mariani said. “The supply chain is now so complicated. It starts in one corner of the world and spreads out across so many middle-men. There are so many opportunities for inaccuracy, bad translation and deliberate misreporting – all the way to the consumer’s plate.”

Part of the problem, Mariani suggested, is that British people know little about fish. A survey he conducted found the average British consumer could identify just two out of six common fish shown to them. About half were familiar with salmon and mackerel, about one in three recognised cod, and less than one in five were able to identify sole, anchovy and sea bass.

Related:  Kids Will Freak Out Over This Fruity Pebbles Sushi (Provided by: Delish)

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon