Federal authorities are hoping that an online assessment system can help the seafood industry crack down on the mislabeling of fish, which Alaska’s lawmakers have cited as a concern for fishermen on the Last Frontier as well.

The Species Substitution & Protein Pattern Matching Tool was developed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Seafood Inspection Laboratory. It takes on a problem which NOAA said in a statement can be the result of anything from simple mistakes to fraudulently seeking a higher price point for seafood.

The tool relies on a specific lab procedure, conducted to examine a fish sample’s muscle proteins, which generates data that can be sent to NOAA. That data is then compared to sample profiles at the agency, generating a series of probability returns for what species the sample being queried actually is.

Probability results from NOAA's Species Substitution & Protein Pattern Matching Tool. (From NOAA)

According to CNN, a study by the conservation group Oceana found about 21% of retailed seafood it ran DNA tests on wasn’t actually what it was claimed to be. Mislabeling, which Oceana found more frequent in restaurants and smaller markets, spanned from selling one species as another to falsely claiming fish was sustainably caught.

Oceana’s overview of common mislabeling found that fish labeled as Alaska or Pacific cod are often other species such as pangasius, Atlantic cod, threadfin slickhead or tilapia. In some cases, fish claimed to be wild, king or sockeye salmon were actually farmed Atlantic salmon.

On another front in the fight against mislabeling, Alaska’s U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, have helped reintroduce a bill this year which would require genetically modified salmon to be so labeled when it is sold. Although GM salmon currently make up a tiny portion of the world salmon market, staff at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute say maintaining label distinctions is crucial to the marketing of Alaska’s wild salmon catch.

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