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Editor's Note: Know what's in your seafood case

Fiona Robinson
Fiona Robinson
May 01, 2005

It goes without saying that, if you’re a retailer, you should know what you’re selling. But considering the deception that goes on in the seafood industry, even an educated buyer can be duped now and then. Take, for example, the “Substitute Snapper?” television report from the Gulf of Mexico in March, which found inexpensive fish being passed off as pricey red snapper fillets.

The latest example of seafood fraud involved farmed salmon being sold as wild, as reported in the April 10 cover story of the New York Times (see late news, page 4). NYT food writer Marion Burros bought samples of supposedly wild salmon from various retailers in New York and had them tested. It turns out some product sold as wild was actually farmed.

With upward of 100 different seafood species sold com- mercially in the United States, fraud is bound to occur. You might order dry scallops and get soaked. Treated scallops aren’t bad; they have a different price point and sell well in certain markets. But you’re not getting what you paid for. And in the case of the New York salmon scam, the financial stakes are much higher.

With leaders in global fisheries looking to aquaculture to fill the demand for seafood in the future, more and more species will be farmed, and there will be even more problems with product identification in the marketplace. Farmed product takes the seasonal aspect out of the buying equation and can provide a consistent, year-round product, which some buyers love. But if it’s wild product they’re after, they can more or less tell when a species is available by checking harvest seasons.

If it seems too good to be true that you’re getting product that no other retailers in your area can get, it might not be what you think it is. The only way to truly know what you’re getting is what you ordered is to learn more about the product, which starts by asking your vendor questions. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, buy whole fish and cut it yourself.

And when it comes to giving information to consumers who have questions you can’t answer, don’t fudge it. They’ll appreciate it if you go to a resource to find the answer, rather than guessing.

You owe it to your customers not only to be truthful but as knowledgeable as possible about your products. SeaFood Business recently released a revised edition of the Seafood Handbook. The new edition profiles 100 species and includes new sections on sustainability and sushi and updated food-safety information. (Check www.seafoodhandbook.com for more details.) The handbook also gives harvest seasons for wild species and background information on farmed seafood, which some retailers ought to read up on.

May 2005 - SeaFood Business

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