Freshwater trout propagated and sold as salmon by Chinese restaurants

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/3 19:23:39

A chef in a seafood restaurant makes Salmon sashimi in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, on April 28. Photo: IC

Chinese customers have been intriguingly asking staff at Japanese restaurants these days, "Is your salmon the real salmon?" after a media report caused a splash last week.

A program aired by China Central Television put the heat on Longyangxia Reservoir in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, China's largest salmon fishery, which claims to produce a third of the country's salmon.

Viewers were shocked to find that the salmon produced in Qinghai wasn't salmon at all, but rainbow trout. The two species only have subtle differences in their appearance, but most people cannot distinguish the meat.

Salmon has been a favorite of the Chinese middle-class over the years due to its high nutritional value and relatively low price.

It's the safety that bothers Chinese seafood lovers, and not only the taste of the two species. The question is: whether rainbow trout can be eaten raw?

Bugged by parasites 

Salmon is believed to be the commercial name for the sea trout in the global market, mainly for the Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon. Both sea trout and rainbow trout belong to the same biological category.

Rainbow trout produced in Qinghai Province, thousands of miles from the ocean, cannot be called salmon, netizens argued, since the fish mostly spend all their life in fresh water where they could be more susceptible to parasites and bacteria.

However, the claim of "rainbow trout in Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau being mislabeled as salmon, and infested with worms and painted to resemble salmon" was refuted by the China Fisheries Association (CFA), an organization at the helm of the fishing industry in China.

The CFA said domestic rainbow trout can be eaten raw since it is raised in water that is safe. The fish is fed hygienically and quarantined carefully. "Whether salmon has parasites does not depend on whether it is bred in sea water or fresh water."

Because of close resemblance, some restaurants directly label rainbow trout as salmon when serving them.

"I guess what I had eaten in this Japanese restaurant is rainbow trout. It is too cheap to be salmon," said Meng, a frequent visitor to a chain sushi bar in Beijing.

The sushi bar has stopped serving "salmon sashimi and any salmon-related food menu" after the popular fish caused so much controversy around the country.

"As luck would have it, I have strong immunity against parasites. So, I didn't fall sick on eating raw rainbow trout, " Meng told the Global Times.

The imported salmon in China is about 100 yuan per kilogram ($15.6), Li Zhiming, a manager from Shanghai Haizhixing Import and Export Company, told the Global Times.

Norway, Denmark and Chile are the major salmon suppliers to China.

Li said nearly 70 percent of his company's imported salmon is on sale in domestic wholesale markets, about 20 percent is supplied to Japanese cuisine restaurants and the rest to supermarkets like Carrefour.

When salmons are imported, the product name mentioned is "Salmo salar," which means Atlantic salmon, not simply its commercial name "salmon," Li said.

"Restaurants should clearly flag the fish's name and origin, leaving customers themselves to make the decision."

Labeled salmon, the price of rainbow trout from Qinghai is quite the same or even higher in the market.

Arount 300 gram "salmon" from Qinghai - rainbow trout - is priced at 108 yuan ($16.8) on Taobao, while 400 gram of the salmon from Norway - sea trout - is being sold at 80 yuan, the Global Times found on Taobao's best-selling list.

Call for action

Chinese authorities have not specified any information on the risk of consuming rainbow trout, Luo Yunbo, a professor of food science at China Agricultural University, told the Global Times.

Luo said he wouldn't dare to eat salmon in restaurants any more.

"In principle, raw rainbow trout, as a kind of fresh water species, has a strong risk of getting infected with bacteria and parasites. The fishery from Qinghai has to provide convincing proof, but obviously it failed to do so," Luo said.

Wu Changchan, the secretary of the Shanghai Fisheries Trade Association, reached by the Global Times, said he hopes authorities will issue a formal statement to clear the air on the controversy.
Newspaper headline: Something fishy

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