The government has just published a booklet establishing that one man's flounder is another man's eyed platefish.
It establishes, too, that some folks who give fish their ordinary names - their street names, you might say - would not make it in the public relations business.Not as long as they insist on applying the name longnosed pigfaced bream to a fish that's marketed under the noble name emperor.
And not if they insist on calling the grunt the brown sweetlips. Or calling the anchovy the smig. Or the grenadier the rattail.
Just off the government's presses is "The Fish List: FDA Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Food Fish Sold in Interstate Commerce."
It is a compilation of the market names that the government accepts for imported and domestically available fish sold for human consumption.
The booklet was published jointly by the Food and Drug Administration and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service, chiefly to help the industry comply with the law that requires that a species of fish be marketed under a consistent, national name no matter what the locals might call it.
"People in the mid-Atlantic area call it striped bass rockfish," said Mary Snyder, assistant to the director of the Division of Regulatory Guidance at the FDA, one of the compilers of "The Fish List."
"To the rest of the country the rockfish is a completely different fish," she said. "It is related to ocean perch, which is a rough looking fish - squatty and with rough scales and spinny fins. What we here in the Washington area call a rockfish is cigar-shaped, has stripes and is very different."
Labeling fish uniformly is important because laissez faire naming can lead to deception. About a month ago, the government seized 45,672 pounds of frozen fish fillets imported from New Zealand. They arrived labeled orange roughy, a tasty, expensive fish, when in fact they were merely the smooth oreo dory, a cheaper fish.
The government gives fishmongers a choice. They can sell fish under the government-assigned market name or under the common name, often an English translation of the scientific name given fish by ichthyologists.
Thus what some people call the Boston mackerel and others call the caballa, but which has the scientific name Scomber scombrus, can be sold simply as mackerel, its government-approved market name, or as Atlantic mackerel, its science-accepted common name.
"The Fish List" was published because fish dealers who called the government to raise fish name questions sometimes got inconsistent answers.
The book lists 24 species of croaker, 38 of snapper, 18 of eel, 62 of rockfish, 31 of grouper, 15 of grunt, 21 of anchovy, 34 of shark, and 21 of mackerel (some of which may also be sold as jack mackerel, chub mackerel, king mackerel, snake mackerel or as Japanese scad, Inca scad or rough scad).
When consumers buy anchovy, they may be getting Anchoa mitchill (common scientific name: bay anchovy) one time, Engraulis mordax (northern anchovy) another time and Anchoa compressa (deepbody anchovy) a third time.
No matter, said Snyder. They can all be sold as just plain anchovy because they are so similar in taste and appearance that the consumer wouldn't know the difference. Only another anchovy could tell for sure.
"The Fish List" lists only fish used by people as food, not pets. No guppies included. No goldfish, either, even though college students once had the custom of eating them whole, raw, live and wet.
The 50-page Fish List may be purchased for $2.75 from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. It is document number 017-012-00341-9.