Government Matches Fish, Market Names : Caballa by Any Other Name Is Still a Mackerel

From Associated Press

A new government publication tries to fix the proper name on every species of fish that might end up on an American’s plate so one diner’s striped bass will no longer be another’s rockfish.

Just off the government’s presses is “The Fish List: FDA Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Food Fish Sold in Interstate Commerce,” intended to end the confusion that arises because fishes swim under so many aliases.

The book assigns a market name to each fish from sea, stream or lake that is sold in America and gives the scientifically-acceptable common name for each. It also tells how the fish is known locally, often by different names in different places.

Fish dealers may sell their wares under either market name or common name, but none other.


What some people call the Boston mackerel and others call the common mackerel and still others know as the caballa, the booklet shows, are all one fish with the scientific Latin name Scomber scombrus.

Scomber scombrus may be sold simply as mackerel, its market name, or as Atlantic mackerel, its science-accepted common name.

The booklet lists 1,042 species, all sold for food in the United States.

But, admits fish list compiler Mary Snyder, assistant to the director of the division of Regulatory Guidance at the Food and Drug Administration, “I have missed many. I get calls every day about fish that aren’t on the list.”

Rockfish illustrate the name problem.

“People in the mid-Atlantic area call striped bass rockfish,” Snyder said. “To the rest of the country the rockfish is a completely different fish. It is related to ocean perch, which is a rough looking fish--squatty and with rough scales and spiny fins. What we here in the Washington area call a rockfish is cigar-shaped, has stripes and is very different.”

The government has long required the marketing of fish under uniform, government-accepted names.

What’s new is the guidebook. It was produced by the FDA and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service because, Snyder said, fish dealers who called for guidance sometimes got inconsistent answers.


“The Fish List” establishes how species with delicious commercial names are sometimes known locally by names so unappealing that anyone would be tempted to toss them back.

Take the fish known to science as the Lethrinus spp. Its commercial name is emperor, but it is known in some places as the longnosed pigfaced bream, elsewhere as the rosefaced pigface bream and in yet other places as the mu.

What is sold as the grunt is known in some places as the brown sweetlips. Some people call some anchovies the smig.

The 50-page Fish List may be purchased for $2.75 from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. It is document number 017-012-00341-9.