If you’re the sushi-loving kind, and it’s part of your regular diet, there’s a very good chance you aren’t getting what you’re paying for.

How bad is it? According to a new report out Thursday by conservation group Oceana, if a consumer eats mislabeled fish as little as once a week, he or she could be losing hundreds of dollars a year due to seafood fraud.

The switcheroo, it turns out, is fairly common. Some species are more susceptible than others.

Tilapia and red snapper can look surprisingly similar. Deep fry it and surround it with sandwich fixings and a crusty roll, and it’s very hard to distinguish what’s what. White tuna, found on sushi menus across the city, sometimes isn’t white tuna at all, but more likely escolar, also fondly known as the “Ex-Lax fish” thanks to the waxy esters it contains. The extra dough you spent on wild salmon may have been squandered as well. In Oceana’s previous seafood fraud reports that included Boston, New York, Chicago and Southern California, DNA testing showed that  fish labeled wild salmon was repeatedly found to actually be cheaper farmed salmon. It’s frustrating for eaters trying to do the right thing, and the report reveals those efforts might also be affecting your wallet

What’s an eater to do? Ask detailed questions of your fishmonger and restaurant server about where they source their seafood. If the answers are vague, beware. If the price of that grilled mahi mahi fish taco is too good to be true, it probably is. Look for established labels, like that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which provides chain-of-custody transparency for the fish it certifies.

It’s a problem local chef Robert Ruiz at Harney Sushi takes seriously. Order a crunchy roll there and it will likely come topped with a tiny rice paper square printed with a QR code. Use your smart phone to scan it, and depending on the fish, you’ll be directed to a video or sustainability information about that specific species. Is it on the gimmicky side? Yes. But it grabs guests’ attention, and starts a conversation about sustainability and traceability in a very real way with consumers who may not have spent much time thinking about the sushi they’ve been enjoying.

“People are ordering more straight fish because we’ve given them more confidence,” Ruiz told Forbes. “If they were scared about trying some of the specialty fish, now they can scan the code and know everything we have is traceable.”

Seafood fraud is now on lawmakers’ radar as well. Earlier this year, the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (SAFE) was introduced to Congress. Its goal: to require traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. Until then, it’s up to eaters to ensure they’re getting what they’re paying for.

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Clare Leschin-Hoar

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @c_leschin or email her

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