Dec. 14 (UPI) -- New York's chief law enforcement officer said Friday an investigation has revealed "rampant" fraud involving fish and other seafood across the state.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood said a quarter of all seafood products in New York markets are mislabeled. The findings come from a report based on what she called "first major government investigation in the U.S. to target seafood fraud."
"We took a look into whether the seafood you're buying at New York's grocery stores is actually what you're reading on the label," she wrote in a tweet Friday. More than 1 in 4 seafood purchases were mislabeled. This isn't just a fluke. There is rampant fraud."
Investigators bought seafood from 29 supermarket brands in 155 locations, and performed DNA tests on nine fish categories -- snapper, grouper, cod, wild salmon, halibut, lemon sole, other sole types, striped bass and white tuna. Officials said they found close to 88 percent of lemon sole were mislabeled, as well as 67 percent of red snapper and more than 27 percent of the "wild" salmon samples.
Investigators said customers paid an average 34 percent more for fish they thought were wild salmon, but was actually farm-raised salmon.
The report said much of the fish labeled "red snapper" was actually lane snapper, known for its high mercury count -- and in some cases, lemon sole was really swai. Many of the imitation fish types came from "less sustainable fisheries than the intended species, raising consumer safety and environmental sustainability issues," the investigators added.
"Supermarkets are the last line of defense before a phony fish ends up as family dinner, and they have a duty to do more," Underwood said. "Yet our report makes clear that New Yorkers may too often be the victim of mislabeling."
About 43 percent of the state's fish mislabeling took place in New York City, and 40 percent on Long Island, the report said. In all, it noted, supermarkets mislabeled nearly 27 percent of the seafood bought by investigators -- a roughly two-thirds of supermarket brands had one or more cases of suspected mislabeling.
"We're taking enforcement action, and consumers should be alert and demand that their supermarket put customers first by taking serious steps to ensure quality control at their seafood counters," Underwood said.