‘That’s not Octopus,’ Class Claims

SAN JOSE (CN) — As octopus prices spiral due to worldwide overfishing, an importer is mislabeling its jumbo squid as octopus to trick consumers, a diner claims in a federal class action.
     Luis Diego Zapata Fonseca sued Vigo Importing Co. on Tuesday, “on behalf of purchasers of Vigo octopus products that Vigo had labeled and sold as octopus when in reality the products contained jumbo squid, which is significantly cheaper and of a lower quality than octopus.”
     The nine-count lawsuit, alleging fraud, false advertising, unfair competition and other charges, contains a wealth of information about the octopus, which, like the squid, is a cephalopod.
     The European Union restricted octopus fishing in 2005, declaring that “the octopus might be at risk of ‘dying out … if controls are not enforced to stop overfishing.'”
     The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization repeated the warning in 2010, and in 2014 Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that “octopus stocks are in poor shape” worldwide. Also in 2014, SeafoodSource.com reported that “octopus supplies had fallen by 45 percent in approximately one year, causing a dramatic increase in the price of octopus,” according to the complaint.
     The octopus does extremely well on intelligence tests such as mazes, it can open jars and build shelters for itself, and is said to be able to recognize its handlers. A captive octopus named Inky made worldwide news this month when he escaped from his aquarium at the National Aquarium in New Zealand, slithered across the floor and into a drainpipe and escaped into Hawke’s Bay. A marine biologist told The New York Times that octopuses are “fantastic escape artists.”
     As food, they are chewy and increasingly expensive. Their taste is similar to the cheaper jumbo squid, which is thriving.
     Stanford biologist William Gilly said in a 2013 TED talk that the jumbo squid’s success is due to its ability to adapt to changing ocean conditions caused by global warming.
     “As a result of these developments, the cost of octopus has risen dramatically compared to the cost of squid,” according to Zapata’s lawsuit. “In addition, due to similarities in texture, squid can easily be substituted for octopus without the consumer being able to tell the difference, particularly when sold in a sauce like garlic sauce or marinara sauce.”
     Vigo sells “Octopus in Marinade Sauce” and “Octopus in Soy and Olive Oil,” with the word “Octopus” prominently displayed on the labels in a large font. Nowhere on the boxes does it say that the products contain squid instead of octopus, Zapata says. And he says he has DNA tests to prove it.
     “Independent DNA testing determined that Vigo’s octopus products are actually jumbo squid and not octopus. Octopus and jumbo squid are both cephalopods, but are otherwise completely different species,” according to the complaint.
     “Vigo has intentionally replaced the octopus in its octopus products with squid as a cheap substitute to save money because it knew an ordinary consumer would have trouble distinguishing the difference,” Fonseca says.
     He seeks class certification, restitution, compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction. He is represented by L. Timothy Fisher with Bursor & Fisher of Walnut Creek, and by James Gitkin with Salpeter & Gitkin in Fort Lauderdale.
     Vigo, which is based in Tampa, Fla., did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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