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Selling Counterfeit Fish Will Put You in the Slammer in the UK

A former chef of Britain’s Royal Navy has been sentenced to six months in jail after orchestrating the sale of counterfeit sea bass in hundreds of UK grocery stores.
Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

The world is full of fakes. Scammers who fake-fall on casino floors, grifters who need your bank account money to send you your rightfully inherited Nigerian fortune, fake Chanel bags, fake Rolexes, fake Champagne, and even fake vodka made out of paint thinner. But while some of this fakery goes unpunished, there's one chef in the UK who's currently doin' time for his counterfeiting—of fish.

This week, 49-year-old Michael Redhead—a former chef of Britain's Royal Navy—was sentenced to six months in jail this week after the court found that he had intentionally orchestrated the sale of more than £1.1 million worth of counterfeit sea bass in grocery stores across the UK. Redhead intentionally devised the sale of more than 400,000 packs of "sea bass" that were actually a significantly cheaper type of perch known as "Japanese sea bass."


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In 2011, Redhead developed an agreement wherein the company Kirwin Brothers Ltd would sell supermarket chain Iceland Foods sea bass that could be marketed under Iceland's brand name. Unfortunately, sea bass prices were rising at that time, and so Redhead began looking into Japanese sea bass and Chinese sea bass as alternatives.

Even after he was told by city council that these inferior "sea basses" were prohibited from being sold as conventional European sea bass, Redhead sent a sketchy email out to the Kirwin Brothers claiming that all was good and dandy with ripping off consumers, who would likely be none the wiser that a chintzy perch was floating around in their lemon butter. The fraud allowed his company to rake in nearly £20,000 in extra profit, but due to the lawsuit, his firm was eventually fined £50,000. Crime doesn't pay, kids.

Judge Richardson of Hull Crown Court told Redhead, "Public confidence has been and will be seriously undermined by your fraudulent conduct … I recognise any custodial sentence upon you will have serious repercussions for you, your family, your company, and companies associated with it."

As of this month, sea bass prices are still on the rise.

The UK has been feeling a little touchy about mislabeled foods since the 2013 discovery that much of its "100-percent beef" was often anything but, with strange blends of horse meat, donkey meat, and pork mixed into a staggering proportion of its frozen burgers and meatballs. Since then, there have been entire teams and industries deployed to fighting meat fraud, which has turned out to be incredibly rampant.

But before you think of this sea bass incident as isolated in the world of seafood—or if you're American, and think you might be exempt from this mad deception—consider that the once-ooh-la-la Chilean sea bass was essentially a marketing scam invented by an American fish merchant, and that sushi fraud is staggeringly rampant in US cities coast to coast, with about one-third of fish mislabeled nationwide.

Eating fish is sort of like a box of chocolates—you never know what you're gonna get. Unless, that is, you know your fisherman.