What seafood are you really buying in Hong Kong?

By Chris Hanselman

Chris Hanselman

There was an article published in ‘Huffpost’ a few days ago discussing the fraud being conducted in the sale of fish in the USA. The researchers in this article actually DNA tested fish samples from sushi restaurants and grocery stores. Their results, wholesale fraud, mirror tests done by food safety officials in the USA and Canada. In fact, in a study last year, 44 per cent of seafood tested in five cities by Oceana Canada was mislabelled.

Similar surveys have found the results to be as high as 50 per cent. These amazing and shocking results included :-

  • Tilapia, which is a white fish, being passed off as red tuna, which suggests it was dyed.
  • Rainbow trout actually being coho salmon — a more expensive fish.
  • Atlantic cod — a threatened fish species — being labelled as Pacific cod.
  • Rainbow trout labelled as Atlantic salmon.
  • Escolar, which contains an indigestible oil that can have a laxative effect on humans, was being called white tuna.

So, the advice from the article, be more vigilant as to where your food comes from. Quoting the researcher, “Buying certified-sustainable fish is also a good way to go if you want to ensure that what is on the label is what you’re eating… when you’re at a restaurant unless the chef can tell you the source of their fish ‘leave it’.”


I do get very upset when I stroll around the supermarkets in Hong Kong. I look at the labels and wonder who has made them up?? And then, does anyone really care what is on them?

Not wishing to dwell on this, but can people recollect the instance some years ago when a well know supermarket chain here was selling ‘oil fish’ as ‘cod fish’. Only a spate of sickness from consumers prompted an investigation and the supermarket was brought to task. Have they learned their lesson? I would suggest ‘No’.

I see fish selling as ‘white’ fish? What on earth is that? Maybe a scientific name on the pack might give us an inkling. I see salmon sold as ‘wild caught Canadian salmon’. Probably right, but is it Chum, Pink, Sockeye or another? I mention this as these all have different price points and qualities. To put it into perspective, chum salmon is normally used as canned salmon and sometimes as cat food. Sockeye or Coho, on the other hand are superlative.

fish mislabelled
Mislabelled fish in PARKnSHOP      Photo: WWF

Another example, which I noticed the other day, was Icelandic wild caught salmon. Sounds absolutely fantastic. And if you can get this product it probably is. But as a matter of fact, most salmon from Iceland is farmed. Their wild caught is usually escaped farmed. To get quantities for export and sale I would suggest is very hard to achieve.

Finally, my major frustration. As a fish supplier, when I see a processed product for sale at an impossible price, I immediately question what is it or how old is it? To be a bore for a moment and take Atlantic Cod as an example….the prices off the boats in Norway are set by the Government to ensure a return to the fishermen. Prices are usually over 30 kroner a kg, so US$3.6/kg. The product is then shipped for production and then the yield on production is approximately 50%. That immediately increases the price to US$8, prior to shipping and packing. So, when arriving at the supermarket, the price of the product has to be in the region of US$10-12. There is then their margin, at least 40%, leading us to a selling price of US$14/kg so, HK$110/kg. So, when they sell for less than a ‘real’ price, I do worry. All I can say is caveat emptor, ‘Buyer beware’. But honestly, I do wish these powerful brands in Hong Kong would be more responsible and take the opportunity to educate rather than just concentrate on sales. This really would help in the fight for sustainable oceans.

Chris has lived in Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung for many years. He has been in Hong Kong since 1982, and is now in the family business, Pacific Rich Resources.

He is passionate about preserving the oceans and his blog, where this article was originally published,  came out of his frustrations in dealing with supermarkets and them not being responsible. So he’s blogging, and working with others, to try to create change through social media. One of the groups he works with is chooserighttoday.org, run by another Sai Kunger Bertha Lo-Hofford.

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