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There's a Good Chance That Ain't Lobster on Your Lobster Roll

An undercover investigation has discovered that in more than a third of restaurants, you're paying the big bucks for imposter lobster.
February 9, 2016, 5:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Young Sok Yun

Unless you live in Maine, you typically have to shell out for lobster—those delicious, prehistoric-looking crustaceans are expensive. You're hoping that you'll get what you paid for when you shell out $20 or more for a lobster roll, but a new report suggests diners may want to approach their seafood with a touch of skepticism. In a recent national sting operation, 35 percent of lobster served in restaurants turned out to contain a cheaper imposter fish or shellfish.

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Inside Edition went to 28 restaurants across the country including chains like Red Lobster; local seafood spots like Tampa, Florida's Get Hooked; and New York City's Soupman, home to the totalitarian soup chef made famous by Seinfeld. The investigative team ordered lobster dishes and shipped off the meaty contents to a lab. While some restaurants were serving up the real thing, others were using cheaper alternatives or a mix of lobster and alternative types of fish. Inside Edition will air the full investigation tonight.

One sample of Red Lobster's lobster bisque contained only langostino, and two other samples included a mix of langostino and lobster. Langostino, not to be confused with langoustines, is known as a squat lobster here in America. It's cheaper than lobster and has more in common with hermit crabs, and the FDA told Inside Edition that soup containing just langostino can't legally be called lobster bisque.

RECIPE: Lobster Chili Chow Mein

Florida's Get Hooked was caught with a mix of lobster and whiting in its lobster rolls. The restaurant owner admitted that he uses a frozen pre-made mix that includes cheaper fish like whiting and pollock, and that he didn't intend to "rip off the public."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team at Soupman runs a tight ship. They were using real lobster across the board.

Imposter seafood, unfortunately, isn't unusual. Many consumers wouldn't recognize, for example, one white fish from another, or langostino meat from lobster meat. A similar 2012 study that surveyed New York City restaurants found 13 different types of fish being passed off as red snapper and found 94 percent of "white tuna" was actually escolar, a type of snake mackerel that can have "purgative effects."

Even though lobster harvests have been growing in recent years, the price of lobster is expected to rise as changing water temperatures rise and lobsters head north to cooler waters, making them more difficult for fisherman to reach. Waters off the coast of Maine are in a warming pocket and are warming faster than 99 percent of the rest of the oceans.

And unlike seafood favorites like salmon and shrimp, which can be grown in farms to ensure a steady supply regardless of fishing conditions, lobsters are exclusively caught in the wild. Though a lobster farm is being developed in Asia, it will raise spiny lobsters, not the big-clawed North American lobsters that Americans crave. Perhaps imposter lobster is what you get when it seems every third new restaurant that opens is selling lobster mac and cheese.

READ MORE: Lobster's Delicious History Is Completely Insane

As we approach a world in which the oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050, it seems as if it will be more and more important to know where your seafood came from and what, exactly, you're eating.