Seabass, Perch or Barramundi: The Ambiguity of Seafood Names

Written by on September 10, 2013 in Other News
Is that fish actually the one you meant to buy?

Is that fish actually the one you meant to buy? Photo credit: siebenthalercreative via photopin cc.

Mislabeling of seafood is rampant in the United States and not uncommon in other parts of the world and it’s a problem that concerns all of us. Purchasing one species but receiving another without knowing it is bad for our oceans, our health and our economy.

Even if you only shop for or eat sustainable seafood, you may still be getting something that was harvested unsustainably. A big part of that is the way we name our fish. There are the Latin or scientific names used by scientists, common names used by divers and fishers, and then there are market names which are used by restaurants and seafood markets. Market names are generally unspecific and can include many different species.

Both common and market names aren’t standardized so it can make the process of selecting sustainable seafood incredibly difficult. For example, Mahi Mahi is also called Dorado or Dolphinfish, but is officially known as Coryphaena hippurus.

Snapper can be even more confusing. There’s gray snapper, yellowtail snapper, red snapper, pink snapper, silk snapper, vermillion snapper, rainbow snapper, uku, utu and, of course, ‘Ula’ula koa’e.

Another popular seafood was assigned a new market name because ‘Patagonian toothfish’ doesn’t sound so appealing. Patagonian toothfish, or Dissostichus eleginoides, is what we know as Chilean Sea Bass, but it’s not sea bass at all.

So what’s the take-home message here? Until we start labeling seafood at restaurants and markets by scientific names, it will continue to be complicated and misleading. The best option is to do your research before going out to buy fish so you know what you’re buying and where it came from!

For more information about naming fish and seafood, read this great piece in the Huffington Post and for a great summary, check out this special from PBS Digital Studios: A Fish By Any Other Name.

And check out some of these posts on seafood post:

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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