That lobster roll you found so delicious might not be the catch you thought it was.
A multi-agency "Seafood Task Force" surveyed 103 restaurants and grocery stores - even going so far as to conduct DNA tests on tilapia - and discovered that customers didn't always get what they thought they were buying.
"We found many had crawfish being sold as lobster; farmed salmon being sold as wild salmon; seabream and pollock being substituted for snapper; fluke being substituted for halibut; and imitation abalone, crab and octopus being sold as the real product," Supervisor Michael Antonovich said in a news conference Monday.
"Escolar is being sold as white tuna, but there is no such fish as white tuna," he added.
Of the 103 facilities surveyed, 74 percent had mislabeled one or more of their seafood products. Many of the violations involved cheap seafood being sold as expensive seafood.
The list included branches of such chains as Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and Trader Joe's. It also had restaurants like P.F. Chang's in El Segundo, Echi Sushi in West Hollywood, Siete Mares in North Hills and Wokcano in Burbank.
The survey found Asakuma Rice in Los Angeles sold escolar in place of "white tuna," and crawfish instead of lobster. A staffer at the restaurant denied in a phone call that they sold escolar and refused to answer any more questions.
The other facilities could not immediately be reached.
The county's public
"We found that some of the facilities were not aware the seafood they had purchased from distributors was labeled incorrectly, so this is not only a problem for consumers but a problem, frankly, for restaurants and markets," he said. "They're victims of this sometimes as well."
During the news conference, Fielding held up separate packages of snapper and tilapia, crawfish and lobster.
"If I took these out of their packages, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference," Fielding said. "But the tilapia is $5.99 and the snapper is $9.99."
"The crawfish is $5.99 a pound and the lobster tail is 10.99 a pound," he added. "In some `lobster rolls,' what've found is the $5.99 crawfish instead of this $10.99 per pound lobster."
Since the different varieties of seafood involved have similar nutritional values, most customers are unharmed by the substitution - unless you count the bite it takes out of their wallets.
The health risk comes when customers allergic to escolar are reeled into buying it, believing it to be white tuna.
"Escolar can cause serious problems," Fielding said. "It can cause a lot of gastro-intestinal problems."
The Seafood Task Force is a collaboration among the county Department of Public Health, California Department of Health, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Fielding vowed the county would work closely with the state and federal agencies to ensure that integrity of the supply chain - from the fishing boat crews, to wholesalers, retailers, and restaurant crews - so that customers know what exactly they're buying.
In the meantime veggie wrap, anyone?
Go to www.antonovich.com to find links to the seafood survey results.