A pair of Florida scientists have developed a device they say can genetically verify whether imported fish destined for dining tables are grouper or less expensive, potentially harmful Asian catfish often passed off for the popular firm-fleshed fillets. By early summer, Tampa-based PureMolecular LLC hopes to begin selling the fist-sized machines for about $2,000 apiece, said John Paul, the company's chief executive and a marine science professor at the University of South Florida. Retailers trying to profit from mislabeling cheaper seafood as more expensive varieties have come under increasing fire from consumer and environmental activists and from seafood vendors who find it harder to charge the full price for properly labeled fish. One group estimates that up to a third of the fish consumed in the United States could be mislabeled.
At the moment only the genetic marker that matches up with grouper DNA is available, though more species could follow after the so-called QuadPyre's release. Paul said the technology produces results within 45 minutes. Scientists are relying more on genetic data to identify and classify fish, said Jerald S. Ault, a marine biology professor at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "Genetically, only .02 percent of imported fish is analyzed,'' Paul said. Currently, U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests can take up to a week to produce results, he added.