NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough?
Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
From New York to New Orleans to Oregon, consumers are being misled about the shrimp they're buying, according to a survey by the advocacy group Oceana.
Cheap, imported farm-raised shrimp is being sold as prized wild-caught Gulf shrimp while common, more plentiful shrimp is being sold as premium. And shrimp of all kinds is sold with no indication whatsoever about where it came from, the group said.
Shrimp caught in the open oceans is considered superior in taste, texture and healthiness compared with farm-raised shrimp that tend to be more rubbery and without the distinct salty taste of the sea. Imports of farm-raised shrimp have skyrocketed in recent years, coinciding with shrimp's ascent as the nation's most popular seafood.
Oceana said it found about 30 percent of 143 shrimp products bought from 111 vendors were not what the label said. Bad labeling was discovered on shrimp sold at national and regional supermarkets and smaller grocery stores alike. Restaurants, from national chains to high-dollar eateries, were also selling poorly labeled shrimp, the group said.
The survey looked at shrimp sold in Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon; and various spots around the Gulf of Mexico as well as New York City, which it deemed the worst offender.
The group acknowledged that the survey was a small sample, but said it used a technique involving DNA to trace the shrimp's roots.
"It was a first good look at shrimp," said Kimberly Warner, a marine scientist with Oceana. She went out and obtained many of the samples.
The group did a similar survey last year for fish and made similar findings. In that report, Oceana said consumers routinely are misled into believing they're buying tuna and red snapper when in reality they're getting less expensive fish.
Oceana is urging Congress and regulators to enforce proper labeling.
Oceana declined to provide the names of the vendors it obtained the samples from. Dustin Cranor, an Oceana spokesman, said the company did not want to identify them because "fraud can happen at any point in the supply chain."
Misleading and illegal labeling of food is considered a major problem among food purists because it cheats consumers and puts them at risk of tainted foods. It also hurts honest vendors and tarnishes an industry's product.
The group's report came as no surprise to fishermen and others involved in the shrimp industry.
"I've been shouting this for ages from the rooftop," said Kimberly Chauvin, who runs a family shrimp business with fishing boats and docks in Chauvin, Louisiana.
She said shrimp mislabeling will get worse unless regulators "start handing out big fines" to companies that break the Food and Drug Administration's labeling laws.
Jerald Horst, a Louisiana seafood writer and former state fisheries specialist, said mislabeling runs rampant in the seafood industry. He said many of the big vendors want to keep the status quo — in other words, lackluster enforcement of labeling.
"There's a lot of pressure from the major institutions for them not to do it," Horst said. "They want the freedom to do 'creative marketing.'"
Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said mislabeling is illegal and pointed out that the agency inspects and enforces labeling laws, handing out warnings and fines.