Commentary: FDA must crack down on fish bait-and-switch

A buyer, beware factoid popped up in Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez's Aug. 24 article, Snapper on your plate may be an impostor. The price of domestic grouper, most of which is caught in the Gulf of Mexico, costs restaurants $11 or $12 a pound.

If the menu says it will cost you $10 or less for a grouper dinner, order something else because chances are you'll be getting a substitute imported fish as your entree.

The same warning applies to another popular fish caught off Florida's coast: red snapper. Unfortunately for the gullible diner, tilapia resembles red snapper in appearance and is cheaper for restaurants to buy.

Sometimes, it isn't the restaurant that's trying to pawn off a cheaper fish, it's the seafood distributor. Either way, the unscrupulous practice is hard to regulate. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration could do better. A federal Government Accountability Office report noted this year that the FDA's oversight of fish markets and restaurants was ineffective and uncoordinated.

We know these shady substitutions happen more than restaurateurs and distributors would like to admit, thanks to Professor Mahmood Shivji of Nova Southeastern University. He created a way to test the DNA of sharks to help authorities crack down on the shark fin trade, which, with a few exceptions, is illegal in the United States.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.