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Fish fraud found to be very common across Mexico

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The practice of species substitution or fish fraud is increasingly common in Mexico and around the world, says Oceana International. Photo: Courtesy

Mexico’s consumer protection agency (Profeco) warns that customers purchasing seafood from markets and restaurants may not be getting what they paid for. 

Popular species of fish such as grouper and tilapia are often substituted for other less expensive varieties. 

To avoid getting ripped off, Profeco recommends eating and buying at establishments that display the fish whole, or where you can buy cheaper types of fish that are more likely to be the real thing.

The Oceana Mexico organization has also raised concerns over the practice of species substitution and has conducted its own investigation in four Mexican cities, including Mérida. 

According to the organization, restaurants and fish markets in Mexico City are the worst offenders when it comes to fish fraud, with a rate approaching 50%, while Mérida is the least problematic. 

However, the organization pointed out that not all is well in Mérida where approximately one in three establishments engage in this sort of activity.

“We went to several different restaurants and markets across the country to purchase and inspect fish. On average we detected a 42% incidence of species substitution at restaurants. At fish markets the problem showed up 27% of the time,” said Oceana Mexico director, Mariana Aziz. 

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The organization says that it is working with the Mexican fishing industry as well as regulatory bodies in an attempt to curtail the issue. 

The problem is not exclusive to Mexico. In the United States, Oceana said studies released since 2014 found an average fish fraud rate of 28%.

For its part, Profeco says that most processed fish products sold in Mexico present similar problems. 

The consumer protection agency reported that 18 brands of canned tuna sold in Mexico contain large amounts of soy (up to 62%) mixed in with actual tuna fish. 

As inflation continues to increase, the price of fish in Mexico has increased steeply. 

“We have seen the cost of some species like tilapia really explode over the past few months. We bring in our fish from Celestún, but many people simply cannot afford it anymore,” said Mérida fish merchant Manuel Balam. 

According to Mexico’s fishery commission, an average person in Mexico consumes approximately 12.5 kilograms of seafood a year.

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