In the wake of this week’s Oceana study, which revealed one-third of the seafood that the advocacy group tested was mislabeled, chefs and others in the fish business revealed some of the ways they try to combat fraud.
The main method that chefs employ to avoid getting conned is buying whole fish, which is not only cheaper than processed fish, but makes it almost impossible for suppliers to foist off inferior seafood. As long as chefs know what each fish looks like, that is.
“I think it is [chefs'] responsibility to know the difference,” says long-time seafood restaurateur and chef Bob Kinkead, who recently opened Ancora in the Watergate. “One way to learn the difference is to buy the whole fish.”
Many of the District’s best seafood and sushi houses buy whole fish. The chefs and/or owners of Ancora, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi and Kaz Sushi Bistro say they usually buy the entire fish, rather than fillets, save for massive specimens such as tuna, which are prohibitively expensive.
“A lot of that comes down to the experience of the chef who’s buying,” says Darren Lee Norris, chef and co-owner of Kushi. “You should be able to recognize the fish from the outside.”
At least one enterprising fish supplier, the Washington-based ProFish, has started a traceability program to help chefs and their customers track their dinner. Restaurants that purchase from ProFish can provide diners with QR codes that link back to the supplier’s FishPrint program, which in turns gives customers such information as harvest location, the specific fisherman who caught your entree and the fish’s sustainability. ProFish is also about to launch an even more extensive DNA testing program for the top 20 fish that the company sells.
Another resource for diners is the Better Seafood Board, which members of the National Fisheries Institute formed in 2007 to support industry principles of “not selling seafood that is short in weight or count, that has the wrong name, or that has been transshipped from one country to another to circumvent duties and tariffs.”
“We suggest consumers ask restaurants and retailers if they source their fish from members of the Better Seafood Board,” notes NFI spokesman Gavin Gibbons. “If they don’t, consumers should ask why not.”
Finally, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) issued a press release on the heels of the Oceana report, saying that he plans to introduce a modified version of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act to improve traceability. Markey first introduced the SAFE Act last year, but it never made it out of committee.
“This report proves that this problem is not going away unless we take decisive action to shed some light on the seafood supply chain, and level the playing field for American consumers and fishermen,” Markey said in the release.“ I have been working with fishermen, restaurants and conservation groups to develop legislation that will protect people’s health and their wallets by ensuring that they know exactly what fish they are buying, and I will introduce that bill very soon.”