MONTEREY - A recent round of testing at local seafood stores and restaurants shows 36 percent of fish are mislabeled, the latest effort by a local environmental group to highlight seafood fraud.

The Monterey County Weekly published the results Thursday, after a round of testing done in conjunction with Monterey-based Oceana, a conservation group that has launched seafood tests in cities across the U.S.

"Monterey Bay is known as a place to come and get seafood. We're not doing better that anywhere else in the country," said Geoff Shester, Oceana's California program director.

Some of the fish were rockfish mislabeled as Pacific red snapper, a common cross-up that is allowed under state law but not under federal rules. But Oceana and the Weekly also found that samples of a local seafood staple, Pacific sanddabs, also could be mislabeled.

"That was the biggest surprise to me - one of our iconic local seafoods, a very Monterey Bay seafood," Shester said.

Those samples turned out to be juvenile flathead sole, similar to but distinct from Pacific sanddabs. In all, seven of 19 samples tested turned out to be inaccurate.

Oceana has conducted seafood sampling in other regions, recently finding 55 percent of fish in Los Angeles and Orange counties mislabeled. In Boston, it was 48 percent. In South Florida, 31 percent.

The rockfish for red snapper bait-and-switch is common, with estimates of up to 70 percent of Pacific red snapper being mislabeled in restaurants and grocery stores. Sushi also is frequently mislabeled, and farmed Atlantic salmon is often found in place of wild Alaska salmon.

Shester said Oceana not only wants to make sure that consumers aren't ripped off, but also that they get an accurate picture of how and where their food is caught.

Alan Lovewell of Local Catch Monterey Bay, a membership-based group that connects consumers directly with fishermen, said there is less chance for seafood fraud if supply chains are shorter. Living near the ocean is an advantage, Lovewell said, but because sanddabs are both highly sought and difficult to catch, there could be an incentive to switch them out.

"That's a great example of misdirection there, because restaurants want to supply what people want, but if they can't get it they're going to supply something else," Lovewell said.

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