Consumers buying Friday night fish and chips are five times more likely to be sold the wrong species in shops which are not certified as selling sustainable fish, DNA tests show.
Regular testing for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies sustainably caught fish with its “blue tick” ecolabel, reveals fish are mislabelled in just 1.6% of shops with an MSC certificate, compared to 8% in nearby non-certified chippies.
But there has also been a marked improvement across the industry since a 2014 survey of fish and chip shops by consumer organisation Which? with the Institute of Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast, which found 16% of fish was mislabelled.
British and Irish fish and chip shops are also doing significantly better than the international rate of global seafood mislabelling, at 30%.
The MSC said its label on menus assured consumers that fish was caught from a sustainably-managed fishery, was fully traceable and was also the species it claimed to be, with independent DNA testing key to monitoring the programme.
George Clark, MSC senior commercial manager for the UK said: “The DNA results are clear, your Friday night takeaway is far more likely to be the fish you think you’ve bought if it’s MSC labelled.
“It’ll also be sustainable, responsibly caught and fully traceable.”
DNA testing was carried out on samples of battered fish from 122 shops in the UK and Ireland, half of which were MSC certified.
Just one sample from the 61 certified shops was found to be haddock instead of cod, but five of the nearby non-certified shops served fish that was different from the species advertised, with one serving cheaper whiting instead of cod.
Professor Chris Elliott, founder of the Institute of Global Food Security, said: “It’s reassuring that the level of fish mislabelling in the UK is much lower than other reported regions in the world.
“However, the fact that the MSC certified shops performed so much better is a clear indication of the importance of the programme.
“Not only does it help assure customers of the sustainability of their fish but also that they are getting what they’ve paid for.”