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MS Lab Finds New Ways to Test for Fish Fraud

By Evelina Burnett | Published 02 Aug 2013 06:00am | comments
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A study has found that one-third of the seafood you eat in restaurants or buy from your local grocery store may not be what you think it is. But, as MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, a Mississippi laboratory is trying to make it easier and faster to test fish and find out what’s really on your plate.

International advocacy group Oceana found that 33 percent of the fish samples it tested from all over the country were mislabeled. Of the 120 red snapper samples it tested, for example, only seven were actually red snapper.

Oceana’s seafood fraud campaign director is Beth Lowell. She says that seafood fraud can be bad for your health -- if fish with higher mercury is substituted for other fish, for example. It can also bring illegal fish into the market, and it's bad for consumers, because they may be paying more for fish with less value. 

Oceana used DNA testing to analyze the samples. That’s the standard way to find out what a fish is when you’ve only got a small piece, like a filet. But a new methodology using protein patterns from fish muscle could make identifying fish a lot easier.  It’s being developed here in Mississippi, at NOAA’s National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula. The lab works with NOAA inspectors and enforcement on seafood safety and fraud issues.

NOAA scientist Shannara Collins explains how she starts the process of analyzing protein patterns. For almost two years, she has been putting together a library of protein patterns from over 1,000 individual fish in more than 130 species. These patterns can then be used to compare against new fish samples, to identify their species. It takes about 30 minutes to run 10 samples for protein patterns. Genetic analysis can take more than a day.

Lead analyst Calvin Walker says, once they’ve finished up performance testing this method, they hope to share it with others, including in the commercial sector and other government uses. 

Walker says the protein testing has proven particularly good at distinguishing between species that are not closely related, such as snapper and catfish, and between homegrown and Asian catfish. 

Oceana Seafood Fraud Report: National Highlights

Full Report

Map of National Testing Results


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