Fish Fraud: Half of Dishes Served at Los Angeles Sushi Restaurants are not What You Think They Are

Next time you order halibut, red snapper or yellowfin tuna at a sushi restaurant in the Los Angeles area, you may want to ask for proof of what’s on your plate.

According to a four-year study published on Wednesday by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and Loyola Marymount University, nearly half of the fish served at more than two dozen highly-rated sushi restaurants in the city is mislabelled.

“Half of what we’re buying isn’t what we think it is,” said Paul Barber, a UCLA professor who led the study published in the journal Conservation Biology. “Fish fraud could be accidental, but I suspect that in some cases the mislabelling is very much intentional, though it’s hard to know where in the supply chain it begins.”

Demian Willette, a researcher and co-author of the study, said that while mislabelling of food is nothing new, what was surprising was that it would be so prevalent, especially in a food-conscious market like Los Angeles.

“We didn’t really expect that because Los Angeles is a very foody culture and in general people are very conscious about what they eat,” he said.

Willette said the study, conducted between 2012 and 2015, looked at 26 sushi restaurants that were highly rated on the reviewing sites Yelp and Zagat.

According to a four-year study, nearly half of the fish served at more than two dozen highly-rated sushi restaurants in the city is mislabelled. Photo: Bloomberg

Biology students at UCLA were sent out to the restaurants over the four years to collect samples of 10 popular varieties of fish used for sushi. The samples were then tested for DNA.

Willette said of 364 samples tested, 47 per cent showed that the sushi was mislabelled.

About the only sure bet was salmon, which was mislabelled only about one in 10 times, and bluefin tuna which was never swapped for a different kind of fish, according to the study.

“But out of 43 orders of halibut and 32 orders of red snapper, DNA tests showed the researchers were always served a different kind of fish,” the study says. Yellowfin tuna was also swapped on seven out of nine orders, usually for bigeye tuna, a vulnerable and overexploited species.

“In some cases, the same restaurant was substituting multiple fish on menus,” Willette said. “So say they would propose three types of tuna when they actually served the same type.”

A researcher and co-author of the study said that while mislabelling of food is nothing new, what was surprising was that it would be so prevalent. Photo: Handout

He said halibut was often swapped for cheaper species of flounder considered overfished or near threatened while red snapper was substituted for sea bream.

He added that while price was a factor in the apparent fraud that likely involving wholesalers, attempts to skirt fishing policies also played a part. “Some of it is price, and some of it is regulations,” he said.

The study warned that apart from duping consumers, the mislabelling posed a health risk for people with allergies to certain fish and for pregnant women and children who should avoid high-mercury fish.

“A common parasite found in raw olive flounder … has caused ‘rampant’ food poisoning in Japan,” the study noted. A spokeswoman at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which was made aware of the study, said her office had no immediate reaction.

As for Willette, he had one piece of advice.

“I would say if you’re going to a sushi restaurant, probably avoid the halibut and red snapper,” he said. “Eat salmon because salmon is almost always salmon.”

Source: SCMP

Wild Salmon with Avocado Cream


4 (4 oz) boneless, skinless wild salmon fillet portions
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp minced chives, divided
2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed
4 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and spun dry
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp rinsed and drained capers

Avocado Chive Cream

1 ripe Haas avocado, pitted and peeled
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp minced chives
1 to 2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Season fish lightly with a little salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp chives and set aside at room temperature.
  2. To make Avocado Chive Cream, place all ingredients in blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth. Add a little more lime juice or salt if you wish.
  3. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit and press into surface of Avocado Chive Cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  4. Blanch sugar snap peas in boiling water for a minute or two. Then drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry. Cut into halves and place in large bowl along with spinach and tomatoes. Set aside.
  5. Heat vegetable broth in large, straight-sided saute pan large enough to hold salmon fillets in a single layer. Gently place salmon in simmering broth and gently poach over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked medium rare.
  6. To serve, spoon 2 Tbsp Avocado Chive Cream onto centre of each of 4 serving plates. Place drained salmon fillet on top.
  7. Drizzle olive oil and lime juice over sugar snap peas, spinach and tomatoes. Gently toss to coat evenly and place generous serving alongside salmon fillet. Place a smaller dollop of Avocado Cream on salmon fillet and scatter with a few capers. Sprinkle with generous grating of fresh black pepper before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Sage magazine

In Pictures: Decorative Sushi

Kazari Maki Sushi

Sushi Lovers, Beware: Tapeworm Now Found in U.S. Salmon

In bad news for sushi lovers, scientists have confirmed that a tapeworm known to infect salmon from the Asian Pacific is also present in fish from U.S. waters.

The parasite, known as the Japanese broad tapeworm, can grow up to 30 feet long in the human body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people who become infected have no symptoms, the CDC says. But some suffer abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss. Over time, the infection can also lead to deficiency in vitamin B12.

On the brighter side, infection with the tapeworm appears to be uncommon: Only around 2,000 cases have been reported in humans — mostly in northeastern Asia, according to Roman Kuchta, the lead researcher on the new report.

The first known human case in North America was recorded in 2008, said Kuchta. He’s based at the Czech Academy of Sciences, in the Czech Republic.

Now his team has confirmed that the tapeworm is present in wild pink salmon from the Alaskan Pacific. The findings are published in the February issue of the CDC’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The risk of contracting the tapeworm from your sushi is low — but it exists, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“When you’re eating uncooked fish — or other raw foods, like unpasteurized milk — there is some inherent risk,” said Adalja, who’s also a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Health Security.

That risk is not limited to tapeworms, he noted. Foodborne pathogens include bacteria, viruses and other parasites.

People who love their sushi and ceviche may not be moved to give it up. But, Adalja said, it’s important to be aware that tapeworm infection is a possibility.

“So if you do develop unusual symptoms that can’t be explained, you could mention to your doctor that you eat raw fish,” Adalja said.

The infection is treatable with medication, he said.

According to the CDC, two drugs, called praziquantel (Biltricide) and niclosamide (Niclocide), are the main ones used to kill the parasite.

The new findings are based on an analysis of 64 wild salmon, from five different species, caught off the Alaskan coast. Samples of pink salmon were found to harbor Japanese broad tapeworm larvae.

How worried should raw-salmon lovers be? According to Kuchta, the tapeworm infection is usually not “dangerous,” causing problems such as abdominal pain and diarrhea in about 20 percent of people infected.

But, he said, in rare cases, “massive infection” can cause an intestinal obstruction or gallbladder inflammation.

Plus, a tapeworm that grows to its full “adult” length consumes a lot of vitamin B12, said Dr. Patrick Okolo, chief of gastroenterology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“That can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which has neurological consequences,” Okolo said.

Those consequences can include numbness, tingling, balance problems, and trouble with thinking and memory.

Okolo agreed that any tapeworm risk from raw salmon would “clearly be small.”

But, he said, doctors might want to consider the possibility of a tapeworm if a patient’s vitamin B12 deficiency cannot be otherwise explained.

Okolo also suggested a safety measure for people who make raw-fish dishes at home: Freeze the fish for a few days, which will kill any parasite.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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