It seems that it’s not uncommon for stores to mislabel the fish they’re selling as more desirable types. This class action alleges that Stew Leonard’s, Inc. mislabels some of its fish as red snapper and sockeye salmon.
The class is identified only as individual who purchased the products in the state of New York at any time during the class period.
The Office of the New York Attorney General (OAG) recently issued a Seafood Fraud and Mislabeling Report. The complaint quotes it as saying, “Consumers think they are buying lemon sole, red snapper, or wild salmon, or any one of dozens of seafood options. But too often, they get something else entirely. They unknowingly take home a cheaper, less environmentally sustainable, or less healthy fish.”
The report marks the end of a 2017-18 investigation. The OAG bought fish at 155 locations from twenty-nine supermarket brands. They then had the fish identified by DNA at an academic laboratory approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Red snapper was particularly likely to be mislabeled, the report said. It found that approximately one in four fish purchases were mislabeled, and that about two-thirds of the supermarkets reviewed had “at least one instance of suspected mislabeling.” Mislabeling at Long Island supermarkets was over 40%.
The mislabeling does not seem to have been merely an honest mistake. The report says that “the mislabeled fish was substituted with fish that were typically cheaper, less desirable species than the desired species.” Thus, the report says, “the tendency of the substitute fish to be a cheaper species suggests that intentional misconduct in the supply chain may play a role.”
The substitutions have other possible negative results. The complaint says that mislabeling involves “a potential for greater chemical residue, a different nutritional profile, a less environmentally friendly species of fish, a less healthy species of fish, and fish with higher mercury levels” than the desired fish.
According to the complaint, the investigation found that “[f]ive supermarket brands were responsible for a large share of mislabeling, one of which was Stew Leonard’s.” The complaint says that the report found that over 53% of samples tested by the OAG was mislabeled.
The complaint claims that Stew Leonard’s sold a snapper fish of inferior quality as red snapper and Coho salmon as sockeye.
The complaint says that the store’s CEO admits that it has been labeling snapper fish as red snapper for the past two years. However, the complaint says that some kinds of snapper, such as lane snapper, has higher mercury levels and comes from less sustainable fisheries than red snapper.
Among the counts cited by the complaint are violations of New York’s General Business Law covering deceptive practices and false advertising, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment.