Phony Fish At The Market

This is about as fresh as seafood gets, a first-hand look most Americans never get.

But, as CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports, a new study finds once a fish is filleted, many consumers are getting taken hook, line and sinker.

"We thought we might find a few mislabeled fish, but we had no idea we would find so many mislabeled," says Peter Marko, a researcher at the University of North Carolina.

Three-quarters of the samples sold as red snapper turned out to be something else. Related species, yes, but not the highly-prized -- and highly-priced -- red snapper

Bob Spaeth, a fish wholesaler in Madeira Beach, Fla., says he wasn't surprised by the findings of the report.

"I've been in the business too long," says Spaeth.

He says substitute snapper is only the start, since unscrupulous dealers can fake pretty much any fish people want to buy.

Spaeth says he's not sure at what level the mislabeling is happening.

"It goes on behind closed doors," he says. "What they do is, they change the package and they don't put any name on it."

But consumers aren't the only ones being ripped off by mislabeling. The practice is driving down the entire pricing structure and threatens an already struggling industry

It's a matter of the bottom line. While a fish at the dock nets about $2.50, look-alike fish from foreign fleets and farms are often available at a fraction of the cost.

"You'll have imports that come in and flood the market at a cheaper price, and if a fish dealer can get a cheaper price he'll pay less to the domestic fisherman," says commercial fishing captain Eric Schmidt.

It's the Food and Drug Administration's job to protect against mislabeling. But the agency says in the post-Sept 11 world, it's not a high priority.

So if you don't want to get skinned, you need to ask questions and apply liberal amounts of common sense to make sure that what you see here, is what you get there.

"If it's cheap, don't buy it, because its probably not good quality," says Spaeith.