Escolar’s Sushi Swindle

Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka under Creative Commons

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If you’re not a foodie, eating raw fish seems like a risky endeavor even when it’s labeled properly. But researchers from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History found this week that high-profile sushi restaurants have substituted tuna with escolar, a fatty bottom feeder that can cause diarrhea and a clear intestinal discharge (seriously gross stuff), without telling their customers. The investigation is part of an effort to collect the “DNA barcodes” of all fish species so that a consumer can determine what they’re about to eat within a matter of minutes.

As Bonnie Tsui reports for the current issue of Mother Jones, this is part of a decades-long sushi rebranding campaign. As the fishing industry noticed the remarkable increase in price for popular fish—the value of blue fin tuna shot up more than fiftyfold between 1970 and 2008—they decided to rebrand other unwanted species. Here’s an example:

Meanwhile, catches and value of Patagonian toothfish—once considered an undesirable tuna bycatch—have skyrocketed since it first hit US plates in the late ’70s, thanks largely to a rebranding campaign by the industry to market the fish as a delicacy. They gave it a new name: Chilean sea bass. It worked so well, Chilean sea bass is now overfished itself.

Read Tsui’s piece for more on escolar and the fishing industry’s ploy to market gross bottom feeders as delicacies.

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