No telling porgies to US consumers
Friday 10 November 2017
American consumers will soon know New Zealand’s snapper by another name.
That is because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the body that regulates fish names, says we can no longer export the species under the snapper name.
The reason is simple: our snapper is not technically a snapper.
In the world of complicated fish names, the only consistent international rule is the agreed scientific name.
In New Zealand snapper is the legal common name for the species Pagrus auratus.
However, according to the FDA, Pagrus auratus cannot be called snapper, that is reserved for species originating from the Lutjanidae family.
And New Zealand’s prized catch actually belongs to the Sparidae clan, also known as porgy - hardly a marketer’s dream.
Snapper is not the only fish with dual identities.
New Zealand ling is from the Ophidiidae family (cusk-eel), whilst in Europe it’s from the Lotidae family.
Red cod and deepsea cod come from the Gadidae family – the cod species. Our blue cod is really a sea perch.
Fish names can be a highly confusing business.
Some of the problem stems from early European settlers who incorrectly named fish based on Old World experience.
They did the same with tree species, but most have fallen by the wayside and the established Maori names are now preferred.
Snapper, our iconic inshore species, generates $33 million in exports, of which approximately 20 percent goes to the US.
But in that market our snapper is no longer snapper.
It is now likely to be known as sea bream.
Industry is in the process of making an application with that name to the FDA.
It still needs to be approved, but sea bream, and variations of it are used for many of the 154 species included in the Sparidae family, making it more likely to be accepted by the American regulators.
The push for change from the FDA was born after they became concerned that some exporters, retailers and restaurants were passing off a wide range of other species as the highly valued Lutjanidae.
Fish fraud continues to be a global problem.
According to US-based organisation Oceana, species such as grouper, cod and snapper may be commonly mislabelled and replaced with fish that are less desirable, cheaper, or more readily available.
But, change can be a good thing and there are cases where a different name has meant a boom in price.
The most famous relates to Chilean sea bass.
That species is technically a cod icefish also known as Nototheniidae.
It is commonly known as Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish and has become highly sought after.
The rebranding to Chilean sea bass by an American importer saw the previously little-known species go from fish finger favourite to being awarded 2001’s “Fish of the Year” by famed food magazine Bon Appetit.
No telling porgies – more smart marketing.
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