Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grouper Switch Follow Up

Red Grouper(Epinephelus morio)

This morning I received an interesting offer sheet from one of my suppliers. The offer was to purchase a new item they will be carrying. The item a fish called emperer (lethrinus lentjan), sold as a frozen CO2 treated fillet. This is one of the many fish that made it's way to the tables of restaurants under the guise of grouper. I applaud the efforts to legitimize grouper sales.

Last October following reports in the Saint Petersburg Times and a full blown investigation by the Florida Department Of Agriculture I wrote:

If you live in Florida, or have vacationed there you would know that the Grouper Sandwich is the default State meal. From Gainesville to Key West you would have a hard time not finding the ubiquitous selection on the menu of most restaurants. Fried, blackened or grilled millions have been served to locals and unsuspecting tourists alike. The big dirty secret is finally out in the open. The chances that the sandwich you or anyone else ate was local grouper -- slim to none. It turns out that most of these establishments were buying frozen "grouper", and that some was an imported species of grouper. At least that is what they thought they were getting. It was more likely that the frozen fish was either a box of mixed species, with some Asian grouper included, or it could have easily been basa, panga, or some other mild white flesh fish, even..gulp tilapia. So who is to blame? The Restaurant for trying to sell cheap Asian grouper? The supplier for not verifying species? The consumer for being cheap? And those are just questions to ask if you want to assume no malevolence. The truth might be even worse, with allegations of fraud and conspiracy. The problem is that real gulf grouper is scarce and expensive. Some of the good guy restaurants are trying to serve Real Florida Grouper, but the menu cost needs to be substantially higher than their competition. For more information see USA Today.

So just 8 months later we finally see the results of these efforts. I applaud Crocker and Winsor for the honesty shown in writing. "Will my customers like it? Chance(sp) are they already do but don't know it. For years emperor an grouper would be mixed in the same box. However in recent years some Southern states in order to support the local fishery-began DNA testing......the result emperor can not be sold as grouper as it was in the past.

I fully support the proper labeling of seafood for a number of reasons.
  1. As a supplier it is frustrating to see customers buying impostor fish at ridiculously low prices from your competition.
  2. As a consumer and buyer I do not like being deceived.
  3. Mislabeling contributes to diminished accuracy in evaluating seafood harvests. And hurts efforts to make fisheries sustainable.
So now we have this new attractively priced emperer fillet available, the same fillet that was masquerading as grouper at a higher price. I for on will not be buying this fish until I know more. But if you find yourself at a restaurant you might still want to ask where the grouper is from. You can look at the Fresh from Florida website for some really great grouper substitution information.

Emperer (lethrinus lentjan)

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