Maine has lobster; Maryland, blue crab. In Florida, it's grouper. The fish is not only part of our regional identity. It is gold to the beachfront restaurants that feed the tourist economy of our coastal state. That's why Florida's attorney general was right to go after distributors who supplied Tampa Bay area restaurants with phony grouper. Customers deserve what they pay for. Leaving them wondering could devastate a market that provides communities with jobs.
Tucking into a grouper sandwich is one of the signature pleasures of the Gulf Coast. Blackened, grilled or fried, the sweet, white flesh is a taste of real Florida, and the draw for restaurants who cultivate a reputation for freshness. But an attorney general's investigation, sparked by a St. Petersburg Times expose, found that area restaurants were advertising and charging for grouper while serving a less expensive fish.
Samples from 20 restaurants found that 17 served bogus grouper. According to the state, a leading food distributor, Sysco Food Services-West Coast Florida, supplied fish to 14 of those restaurants. Sysco has agreed to tighten its testing for grouper, donate $100,000 worth of food to charity and reimburse the state $200,000 for the costs of the investigation. Hopefully that sum is enough to capture Sysco's attention, and to send a warning to other suppliers and the restaurants to serve the real deal. Given the scope of the problem, though, it wouldn't hurt for the state to spot check suppliers and restaurants for a while. Our tourist economy is worth it.