Grocery store customers who buy fish often aren't getting what they're paying for, the New York State attorney general's office said Friday.
More than one in four seafood purchases at New York state supermarkets are mislabeled, the office found, meaning they are not sold under a federally recognized market name for that species.
The mislabeling included farm-raised salmon being sold as wild salmon, lane snapper sold as red snapper, and swai sold as lemon sole. The substitutes were typically cheaper, less desirable species.
“It’s clear that seafood fraud isn’t just a fluke — it’s rampant across New York,” Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood said in a statement. “Supermarkets are the last line of defense before a phony fish ends up as family dinner, and they have a duty to do more."
Mislabeling was most widespread downstate, the attorney general's investigation found. New York City had the highest rate — 42.65 percent across all samples tested — followed by Long Island at 40.63 percent and Westchester/Rockland at 32.43 percent.
Investigators from the AG's office purchased seafood at 155 locations across 29 supermarket brands and put the samples through DNA testing.
Of 12 chains with 10 or more samples tested, five had rates of suspected mislabeling that exceeded 50 percent. Those were: Food Bazaar, Foodtown, Uncle Giuseppe's, Western Beef and Stew Leonard's.
The AG's office said it sent letters to the five chains seeking further information, including on their seafood quality control practices. The chains could face financial penalties, the office said.
Stew Leonard Jr., president and chief executive at Stew Leonard's, said his company was not aware of the discrepancies until it was contacted by the AG's office.
"Two years ago, Stew Leonard’s started importing what we believed to be red snapper. It had a red hue and it was snapper," Leonard Jr. said in a statement. "Until today, my family and I had no idea that an imported snapper couldn’t be called a 'red snapper' as only domestic snapper is permitted to be called 'red snapper.' We immediately changed our signage and our labels once we were alerted to this issue earlier today by the New York Attorney General's Office."
At Uncle Giuseppe's, "it is against our policy to mislabel any product in our stores," the company said in a statement. "We do however rely on our reputable suppliers for product information and are conducting a full investigation on our end to ensure the information that is reported to us is accurate."
Phone calls to Foodtown and Western Beef were not returned. An email to Food Bazaar wasn't returned.