Restaurant owner calls mislabeled seafood 'honest mistake'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This is Florida and most Floridians love seafood. They just want to be sure that they're getting what they pay for, if it is grouper let it be grouper and not tilapia.

A database, compiled by out news partner The Florida Times-Union, reveals there is a problem with seafood being misrepresented in our community. Siena's Italian Cuisine was on the list. Oktay Kiroglu is the owner.

"It was like September or October of last year," said Kiroglu.

That's when a state restaurant inspector found fish being sold as grouper when it was not. Kiroglu said he transported from one restaurant to another in an unlabeled bag.

"They thought it was grouper and put it on the special," he said.

Kiroglu said there was never an intent to defraud customers

"It was an honest mistake," he said, "and we apologize for what happened."

He was reprimanded and the violation corrected.

"I'm so sorry for what happened, and we corrected it," he said.

Several local experts said misrepresentation is not new in the seafood industry. They said at the wholesale level, it is getting better.

"It is cleaned up," said Abe Bielski, a consultant, "It is not what it used to be ten years ago."

He said at the wholesale level, the consequences are grave and all of the products are subject to DNA testing.

Gerald Pack of Safe Harbor Seafood agrees.

"There are rules in place to stop substituting for monetary gain," said Pack, " but when it comes to the restaurant level how to enforce it is tough'

Kiruglo has been in the restaurant business 14 years, he said consumers have to develop a trust in the person in the kitchen to avoid seafood fraud. Once the fish is skinned or cooked it becomes very hard to identify.

"A lot of people when when they taste it they can tell fresh from frozen." he said.

The challenge is being able to tell if the tuna is really tuna or something else.

The group Oceana is now pushing a bill through congress to stop seafood fraud from bait to plate.


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