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Scientists find 75 percent of red snapper sold in stores is really some other species

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL -- While learning in a course how to extract, amplify and sequence the genetic material known as DNA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate students got a big surprise. So did their marine science professors.

In violation of federal law, more than 75 percent of fish tested and sold as tasty red snapper in stores in eight states were other species. How much of the mislabeling was unintentional or fraud is unknown, said Dr. Peter B. Marko, assistant professor of marine sciences at UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

"Red snapper is the most sought-after snapper species and has the highest prices, and many people, including me, believe it tastes best," Marko said. "Mislabeling to this extent not only defrauds consumers, but also risks adversely affecting estimates of stock size for this species if it influences the reporting of catch data used in fisheries management. The potential for this kind of bias in fisheries data depends on at what point in the commercial industry fish are mislabeled, which is something that we currently know little about."

A report on his group's research appears in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature. Co-authors are his colleague Dr. Amy L. Moran, research assistant professor of marine sciences, and graduate students Sarah C. Lee, Amber M. Rice, Joel M. Gramling, Tara M. Fitzhenry, Justin S. McAlister and George R. Harper.

"The red snapper, or Lutjanus campechanus, is found in offshore waters around coral reefs and rocky outcroppings and is one of the most economically important fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, with greater total landingsthan any other snapper species," Marko and colleagues wrote. "In 1996, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the U.S. Department of Commerce declared that L. campechanus was grossly overfished and called for strict management measures to restore stocks to sustainable levels.

"Such restrictions create an e
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Contact: David Williamson
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
14-Jul-2004


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