By Lauren Sloss
Apparently, we’ve all been eating “ex-lax fish” from Mexico posing as albacore from California for years, and nothing has been done to stop it.
Well, that’s a ridiculously simplified breakdown of the very real issue of seafood mislabeling, a widespread problem that stretches all along the supply chain. But a new piece of state legislation, SB 1138, hopes to change this.
SB 1138 would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly sell mislabeled seafood, and come with significant monetary repercussions to those who got caught. Example? Sushi restaurants calling fluke halibut, or escolar (the aforementioned ex-lax fish), albacore tuna.
That’s all kinds of messed up. And it’s about time the government stepped up and took action about this, particularly considering seafood mislabeling is particularly rampant in California. But will SB 1138 be enough to stymie this bad behavior?
(Sidenote: it becomes increasingly challenging not to make bad fish puns when talking about this.)
I checked in with Kenny Bevlov of Fish Restaurant in Sausalito, and the founder of TwoXSea. TwoXSea is one of the more sought-after seafood providers in the Bay Area, in part because of their total transparency – chefs know exactly what they’re getting from Kenny, and Kenny carefully tracks the origin, method, and type of fish he sells. He’s optimistic about SB 1138, though he notes that this particular legislation is only a start, if a good one.
“Now, it’s too easy for the kitchen to mislabel something, or the wholesaler to mislabel something. And there’s just no consequence! So this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
But with seafood, the devil is in the details. It’s not just escolar masquerading as tuna; more often, it’s the origin or fishing method that’s inaccurate. Why? Because local and sustainable sells, and by labeling something as such, fish are more likely to sell.
“I just came from a meeting where the FDA was speaking about this – they noticed a huge drop in sales when wholesalers had to call ‘California Halibut’ ‘Mexican Flounder,’” Kenny says. “So, the FDA allowed it to be called ‘California White Sea Bass.’ There’s no such fish in nature! But that’s a name that drives sales.”
It figures – it’s our own damn fault for having high standards and locavore tastes. Or something. But what’s an eater to do until January 2015, when SB 1138 goes into effect (should it make it through the Senate Appropriations Committee)?
I see three options. One, panic, and stop eating fish entirely. Two, take up spearfishing. Three, only buy fish from places that carefully source and label their fish (Bi-Rite is a good example). Option one is pretty crappy, and two, while badass, sounds cold. So don’t panic and instead, educate yourself about seafood sellers in the city, and make smart purchasing choices.
Oh, and definitely make sure you're actually ordering albacore when you go out for sushi. Ew.
Image by emkeller via Flickr