Nightly News   |  December 11, 2012

Buyer beware: fishy trick baits customers

According to a study from environmental group Oceana, grocery stores and restaurants are advertising one kind of fish and selling another. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> and there is a consumer story in the news today. it has to do with the findings out today on truth and labeling and whether the fish you order in a restaurant or buy at the store is anything close to what you actually get. some of the actual findings are alarming. we get that story tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent, anne thompson .

>> reporter: red snapper , one of the most beautiful and popular fish from the gulf of mexico . today, a new study finds when you order red snapper in new york city 's grocery stores and restaurants, a whopping 79% of the time, you're getting something else, a lower-quality fish, different kinds of snapper, tilapia, even tile fish , on the fda's do not eat list for pregnant women , nursing mothers and young children. oceana, the environmental group that did the study, says it's the ultimate bait and switch and it's happening across the country.

>> someone along the supply chain is making money off of this. and then some consumer at the end of the line is getting ripped off.

>> reporter: this summer, oceana tested 142 samples of seafood in new york . it found the highest rate of fraud at sushi bars, then restaurants and grocery stores . 94% of the white tuna purchased in sushi bars was actually escolar, a fish with laxative-like qualities. new york wholesaler vinny demeno says mislabeling is driven by the profit motive.

>> you put wild salmon or organic salmon, it becomes a whole different thing. and they can charge a little extra.

>> reporter: now, 500 of the nation's top chefs and restaurant owners want government regulators to trace seafood, from the boat to the plate. they include chicago's rick bayliss, new orleans' john besch and thomas keller of the french laundry in california. the industry trade group , the national fisheries institute , set up the better seafood board, whose members pledge to obey labeling laws.

>> because the companies that do things right feel a disadvantage when either their competitors or their customers mislabel a product for financial gain. it's just wrong.

>> reporter: and consumers end up paying the price. anne thompson , nbc news, new york .