That Salmon Fillet Is A Fraud: Restaurants’ ‘Wild’ Fish Really Swims In Poop-Filled Farms

That fancy wild salmon fillet on your plate has a dirty secret: it’s not wild at all but farmed in a polluted, poop and bacteria-filled pool. And the restaurant that served it to you knew it was a fraud.

That’s what a new study from a conservation group called Oceana has claimed, NBC News reported. Their investigation into 82 samples of salmon sold in Virginia, Washington, Chicago, and New York revealed that nearly half the salmon was a fraud.

Of the salmon tested, 43 percent were mislabeled, and the most common fraud committed was the switching out of wild salmon for farmed. In other words, restaurants were offering farmed Atlantic salmon but telling customers it was wild-caught Pacific salmon (which you can’t get in winter, by the way).

And the restaurants were charging people wild prices.

A study performed a couple years ago derived a much smaller percentage — only 7 percent of salmon was found to be mislabeled, so supply-and-demand may be the instigator of this fraud.

"Wild" salmon in many restaurants is farmed, and a fraud
[Photo By Justin Sullivan / Getty Images]

The prime perpetrator was restaurants because grocery stores are required to provide tons of specific information about the fish, including salmon, they are selling to customers. Not so with restaurants. Wholesalers and processors have been accused of fish fraud in the past as well.

And with this rampant salmon fraud in restaurants now exposed, the question is — what’s going to be done about it?

“Let’s be clear, fraud is fraud,” said the National Fisheries Institute VP Gavin Gibbons said. “There’s no question about it. If there is evidence of fraudulent mislabeling, law enforcement should be involved. Cracking down on these types of practices is the only practical way to stop them.”

So why is this a big deal? It’s not fair to the people who fish salmon, it’s not fair to the farmed salmon stuck in poop-contaminated pools, and it’s not fair to our oceans. Scientific American explained why.

Verner Wilson III has a long family history of fishing for salmon. He’s three-quarters Yup’ik Eskimo, and his ancestors have fished Alaska’s Bristol Bay for centuries. His grandfather was a Finnish salmon fisherman who came to Alaska to fish. He’s also just graduated from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences.

Wilson fished with his father, and his father fished with his. They depended on salmon for income and food, but by the 1990s, his people could no longer depend on the harvest for their livelihoods. Cheaper farmed fish flooded the market, and the price plummeted. Alaskan fishermen pride themselves on their salmon being a cut above the rest, but life in this industry is tough.

And now restaurants are passing off fraud fillets to customers. That angers Wilson.

“Salmon fishing is a gamble. You never know how big the run is going to be that year, what the weather will do. We put up with it because we love it. We know that we’re providing a wild, natural, sustainable product that’s healthy for people. That’s why it’s damn frustrating to hear that people are lying and cheating to pass off their products as one of ours. They’re basically riding on the backs of our hard work and risk.”

"Wild" salmon in many restaurants is farmed, and a fraud
[Photo By Shannon Heryet / Shutterstock]

You should also feel bad for the Atlantic farmed salmon filling in for the wild stuff. Margo Stiles, who’s with Oceana, said their “net pens look clean on the surface.” The story changes when you look underwater: it’s murky and filled with salmon poop and bacteria, the water grossly polluted.

Then there’s the effect on the ocean. The wild-caught fisheries in the U.S. are awesome as far as quality and sustainability go. These salmon are well-managed, and their impact on the oceans is minimal. But during storms, the polluted fish farms often spill their foul water — filled with uneaten food and antibiotics — into the ocean; the captive and low-quality salmon inside can escape and out-compete their free cousins; and the expansion of farms threatens pristine, undeveloped waters.

The Obama Administration is working on curbing this fraud in restaurants. But until then, the only advice is to eat flash-frozen wild salmon in the winter and fresh in the summer. And start asking your favorite restaurants a few pointed questions when you think they’re fibbing.

[Photo By Nanisimova/ Shutterstock]

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