Snapper on your plate may be an impostor

Genetics professor Mahmood Shivji didn't get into DNA research to strike fear in the hearts of restaurant owners and chefs.

But the Guy Harvey Research Institute, which he heads, is a virtual CSI: Seafood lab these days. The widespread -- and illegal -- practice of fish substitution at restaurants has placed Shivji's marine life genetics expertise in high demand.

In the last two years, Shivji has analyzed upward of 100 restaurant plates from across the country, more than half the time proclaiming that the dish was not the grouper or snapper specimen that diners thought they were eating. Instead, restaurants secretly served up cheaper fish such as catfish or tilapia.

``It's consumer fraud,'' said Shivji, who teaches at Nova Southeastern University. ``You're paying for item X and usually grouper and red snapper are on the higher end of the price list.''

With domestic grouper costing restaurants $11 or $12 a pound -- and imported catfish available for a mere $2.50 a pound -- unsavory chefs can profit handsomely from this unethical bait-and-switch.

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