Get Garcia: Investigation Reveals Widespread Seafood Mislabeling in LA County

The violations were found as part of a county and federal investigation spurred by an NBC4 Get Garcia Team exposé.

Major supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers that sell fish across Los Angeles County have been accused of violating labeling requirements, listing the wrong country of origin, and, in one case, making up a species.

LA County and federal inspectors tested 103 pieces of fish and found 74 percent were mislabeled, the most common violation found. Often times, the fish sampled was much cheaper than what is was sold for.

"This is the first time the county has made it public," said Mike Antonovich, LA County Board of Supervisors

The joint investigation uncovered dozens of violations from when the fish is caught to when it is consumed. The Seafood Task Force Survey documents markets inspected from May to August 2012.

Violations were found at the following major grocery chains and restaurants:

  • Ralphs,
  • Bristol Farms,
  • Food 4 Less,
  • Pavilions,
  • Albertsons,
  • Trader Joe’s,
  • Vons,
  • Roy’s Sushi Roku, and
  • PF Chang’s.

There were no violations reported for the fish bought at Whole Foods, Gladstone’s and Red Lobster.

DOCUMENT: Read the Complete "Seafood Task Force Survey"

The Lobster in Santa Monica was accused of serving imitation crab and imitations abalone. Restaurant heads contend they never served abalone, and they “don’t use any imitation crab.”

Roy’s Restaurant at 800 S. Figueroa St. was accused of substituting the Tai Seabeam for Tai Snapper, and improperly identifying their country of origin.

Restaurant manager Matt Vega said Roy’s doesn’t list countries of origin, so he was "confused" over how they could misrepresent a field they don’t divuldge.

"To my knowledge everything on our menu is clearly labeled and up to date," Vega said.

"There is only one fish on the entire menu that actually says where it’s from, which is our Scuna Bay Salmon, which actually tells you which farm it’s from," he added. "The rest of them all have descriptions of the actual items but there is actually no countries listed on the entire menu."

Vega said if a customer wanted to know where their fish originated, which changes often, the chef would be able to let them know.

Located at 848 N. La Cienega Blvd., Asakuma Rice is accused of substituting Escolar for White Tune, a type of fish, experts say, doesn’t even exist.

"We don’t sell escolar here," said Ige, manager of Asakuma Rice. "We don’t have lobster here. We do use crawfish."

The restaurant is also accused of substituting crawfish for lobster. The eatery would not declare that they use lobster.

Maki Yaki in Venice has been accused of substituting tilapia for red snapper. The restaurant’s manager said a health inspector alerted them to the mislabeling. When asked for clarification, the restaurant’s fish purveyor "said they don’t carry that anymore and now they only carry tilapia."

"We changed it, because every time we would purchase it at the fish market they would label it as red snapper," the manager said.

The Get Garcia team first reported the problem of mislabeling last month. During that investigation, fish samples were DNA tested then the results were matched against the fishes’ labels.

That test along with one conducted by the nonprofit group Oceana found problems with mislabeling. Now, the government has confirmation with its own results.

Gavin Gibbons, of the National Fisheries Institute, said he is pleased the county is
"taking proactive steps to stamp out seafood fraud. It is disappointing that the Seafood Task Force reports a large number of mislabeled samples."


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