How can you tell if the fish that you are buying is what the label says it is? Maltese says when it comes to certain fish such as snapper and grouper, beauty truly is skin deep.
“Flip it over. Tell the man you want to see the skin on it,” he said. “If it’s skinned, don’t buy it as a red snapper or a grouper.”
Red snapper skin should be a bright pink, almost red. Grouper skin is speckled gray. Without the skin, it is nearly impossible to tell what fish you are looking at.
“When you take the skin off, it looks like several different fish,” Maltese said.
Another frequent substitution is farm-raised salmon sold as wild or sockeye salmon. Maltese says wild salmon tends to be less brightly colored than the farm-raised variety, which are often raised on specially formulated food to make them more orange. Farm-raised salmon may also have white lines running through the meat. Those lines are fat, which is a telltale sign the fish was not caught in the wild.
“The wild salmon very rarely has any fat lines in it because they have to swim, and they stay in shape trying to catch their food, whereas the farmed fish sits around and eats pellets,” he said.
Maltese says the law requires fish markets to display a sign showing where the fish is from and whether it is fresh or frozen. But there is no substitute for knowing your fish seller.
“They should be around a while,” he said. “You have to pick a place that has volume, a lot of customers, and if you see a lot of customers in the store, you know they’re turning the fish over and if they’re around 30, 35 years, 20 years, you know that there’s a reason for that.”
The Oceana report advises consumers to ask questions, such as what kind of fish it is, whether it was caught in the wild or farm-raised, and when and how it was caught.
The organization says to remember the old saying. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
“You are likely purchasing a completely different species than what is on the label,” the report says.
And if possible, buy the whole fish instead of a filet. That is much more difficult to fake.
To make sure the fish you are buying is fresh, Maltese says to give it a good whiff.
“If you pick up a piece of fish and it smells like fish, it’s not fresh,” he said.
The colors should be bright, the eyes clear and rounded. If you detect a sheen or film on the fish, stay away. Chances are it has been soaked in brine to make it appear fresher than it is.
“It’s not a natural thing to have a sheen on fresh fish,” Maltese said.
Above all, when you are shopping for that red snapper for tonight — or anytime you are in the market for seafood — it is important to keep in mind that you are navigating a market that is relentlessly buffeted by basic economics.
“There’s more people now eating fish than there ever was in history, and they realize how healthy it is worldwide,” Maltese said. “We used to think the ocean was a bottomless pit. But we found out it’s not so. It’s supply and demand.”
See how “Codfather” Carlos Rafael earned his nickname — and why fish fraud is so hard to police — on an ALL NEW episode of
Monday, Sept. 24 at 10pm ET/PT only on CNBC.