HONOLULU (KHON2) — A new study out of the University of Hawaii at Manoa finds that 21% or about one in every five pieces of seafood in Honolulu is mislabeled.

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Red snapper, sea bass, and mahi-mahi are all popular fish you’d find at most restaurants.

The study found in some instances, the fish being served was actually swai, which is similar to catfish.

“The substitutions almost always involve less expensive species for more desirable species,” UH Manoa School of Life Sciences Professor Peter Marko said. “So if it was all happening at random as a consequence of honest mistakes you’d think it would go both ways.”

UH Manoa says this is the first study on seafood label accuracy in Hawaii. They used DNA to find mislabeling in grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi bars in Honolulu. The city and county’s numbers are lower than what researchers expected, with the national average about 33%.

Renowned Hawaii Chef Sam Choy says he’s never seen a local restaurant mislabel seafood.

“I would know in the first smell and the first bite,” said Choy. “Even looking at a raw steak I would know exactly like hey, that’s not mahi-mahi.”

It’s not just cheap fish being passed off for more expensive cuts. The study found critically endangered southern bluefin tuna being sold as ahi, while the European eel is illegally laundered through Asia and sold in the United States as unagi.

“That’s the most concerning thing in the study is you can buy unagi here in Hawaii which is actually European Eels which is an endangered species,” Professor Marko said.

To stop this practice, researchers say the federal government needs to establish more strict naming practices for seafood, including using Latin names for species.

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