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Drawing by Dr Tony Ayling
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Gempylidae
Genus: Ruvettus
Species: R. pretiosus
Binomial name
Ruvettus pretiosus
Cocco, 1833

The oilfish, Ruvettus pretiosus, is a species of snake mackerel in the family Gempylidae, and the only species in the genus Ruvettus. It is found in the Mediterranean, middle Atlantic and throughout the southern seas, at depths of between 100 and 800 m. Its length is between 80 cm and 2 m.

The flesh is very oily and although edible, the oil actually consists of wax esters, which are not digested like traditional oil. The flesh has an oil content of around 25%, and with serving sizes of several ounces and upwards commonplace, some people experience a laxative side effect from such a large amount of wax esters.

Olfish is pleasantly rich in taste and can be substantially cheaper than some other fish species, leading to some fish sellers to intentionally mislabel it as butterfish or even codfish despite the utter lack of relation. This leads the consumer to often eat large servings, as they assume it is a fish they are familiar with, and then some may experience a laxative effect. Because of this, Japan and Italy have imposed an import ban on oilfish and Australia has banned oilfish from being sold as food. The US FDA has warned consumers about potential mislabeling of oilfish, but has concluded that any laxative side effects that occur are uncomfortable at worst and pose no health risk.

Hong Kong Oilfish controversy

Hong Kong's PARKnSHOP supermarket was selling oilfish as "cod fish (oilfish)" in its stores. Consumers ate the fish believing it is codfish, then suffered oily diarrhea as a result. The oilfish-labelling controversy was reported by a number of news and media organizations, such as TVB Newsmagazine. A total of 14 complaints were filed against the supermarket chain, leading to an investigation by the Centre for Food Safety. ParkNShop has denied responsibility, claiming the fish is safe for human consumption. Nonetheless, the chain has since stopped selling the fish product.[1][2][3]

On 30 January 2007, the commercial attache from the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong confirmed that the export health certificate Mr Peter Johnston, ParkNShop's Quality Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs General Manager, had used in its media conference several days earlier was doctored. The attache explained that its fisheries department, under a request from the Hong Kong importer, had changed the product name, by including "Cod Fish" alongside its scientific name, on the certificate.

As a result of the PARKnSHOP-oilfish incident, Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong published new guidelines on the proper labelling of oilfish to consumers, such that oilfish species "Ruvettus pretiosus" and "Lepidocybium flavobrunneum" should not be labelled as "cod". [4][5] PARKnSHOP was also fined HKD 45,000 after pleading guilty to 9 counts of misrepresentation of products.[6]

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported (Feb. 23, 2007) on several cases in Canada where mislabelled oilfish was sold at Chinese supermarkets. Canadians fall ill after eating mislabelled oily fish[7][8][9][10]

See also


  1. ^ "Ruvettus pretiosus". FishBase. Ed. Ranier Froese and Daniel Pauly. February 2006 version. N.p.: FishBase, 2006.
  2. ^ Tony Ayling & Geoffrey Cox, Collins Guide to the Sea Fishes of New Zealand, (William Collins Publishers Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand 1982) ISBN 0-00-216987-8
  3. ^ FishBase entry
  4. ^ Guidelines on identification and labelling of oilfish and cod issued
  5. ^ Guidelines on Identification and Labelling of Oilfish/Cod
  6. ^ PARKnSHOP Fined $45,000 for Selling Oilfish (in Chinese)
  7. ^ RTHK news item - 24 January 2007
  8. ^ Hong Kong Standard article
  9. ^ HKSAR government news release
  10. ^ MingPao news in Chinese


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