Fishy business: Could fish mislabelling be the next horsemeat scandal?

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Seafood

A recent survey from Salford University found that seven per cent of cod and haddock sold in restaurants was actually another breed
A recent survey from Salford University found that seven per cent of cod and haddock sold in restaurants was actually another breed
Foodservice businesses across the UK are being urged to take more responsibility for serving the right type of fish after a survey has found that seven per cent of cod and haddock sold in restaurants was actually another species. 

The report, by Salford University, has been welcomed by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), which claims it should be used as a ‘wake-up call for the industry’ following the not-too-dissimilar horsemeat scandal earlier this year.

The SRA’s managing director Mark Linehan said: “As the horsemeat scandal has shown us, diners will vote with their wallets if businesses don’t take responsibility for their supply chain.”

“Consumers want transparency and restaurants are duty-bound to provide it,” added Linehan. “SRA Members that have drawn up a sourcing policy, are rigorous with suppliers, take steps to improve staff knowledge of fish and, where appropriate, gain MSC certification will put themselves in the best possible position to serve customers what they say are serving them.”

The survey does not indicate any health risks – just that customers are sometimes being deceived when they purchase what they thought was a more expensive fish at restaurants, hotels and pubs across the UK.

In cod we trust

Restaurants that are committed to being in control of their sourcing, and to serving their customers the right fish, can use the SRA’s fish specific supplier agreement that includes clauses that preclude the supply of the likes of cod and haddock from illegal, unreported or unregulated sources and demand proof of traceability including where and when the fish was caught.

Enoch's has five fish suppliers and has a close working relationship with all of them

One establishment doing exactly that is SRA Member and Welsh Sustainable Restaurant of the Year, Enoch’s Fish and Chips. The restaurant has five fish suppliers and has agreements and a close working relationship with all of them.

Owner Danny White-Meir said: “We have a duty to serve what we say we are serving and I can sleep easy at night because I speak to my suppliers all the time and they provide me with all the documentation I want, telling me exactly what the fish is, as well as where and when it was caught.

“That means we can confidently tell our customers we are serving them cod, haddock, hake or pollock and they know that’s precisely what they are getting.”

Enoch’s has gone a step further and been awarded the ‘Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody’ for its cod and hake, which means that in addition to knowing all the catch details of the fish, the sustainability of the fish is also guaranteed.

Best plaice

It should be noted that the UK industry is comparatively much better than other countries when it comes to seafood labelling, and the phenomenon is not a new one.

In 2010, a similar study of samples bought in restaurants, shops and supermarkets in the Republic of Ireland found that a quarter of ‘cod’ and ‘haddock’ products were other species.

And in the US, scientists used the same approach to identify fish served in New York restaurants. They too discovered that 25 per cent of the fish was mislabelled.

Restaurants in the UK can put their fish sourcing to the test and reassure diners by completing the SRA’s Sustainability Rating which rewards restaurants for having a written sustainable seafood sourcing guide, and for sourcing from British boats.

There was further confusion surrounding fish earlier this year when mackerel – a fish favoured by chefs for its unique flavour and sustainable credentials – was downgraded from the Marine Conservation Society’s Fish to Eat list. We took a closer look at what fish and seafood it does and doesn't recommend restaurants put on customers' plates in this report.

Are you confident that the fish you serve in your restaurant, hotel or pub is labelled correctly? Cast your vote in the survey below and leave a comment to let us know your thoughts.


Are you confident that the fish you serve is labelled correctly?

  • YES - We have agreements and close relationships with suppliers

  • NO - The species cannot be guaranteed with the current supply chain


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