There’s a lot to love about seafood: not only is it delicious, but it’s some of the leanest and healthiest protein available. Fish is a wonderful source of essential fatty acids like omega-3’s and EPA/DHA, making it a great healthy choice for protein. However, issues in the oceans these days means the seafood enthusiast needs to think twice about which catch to order. Water pollution, over-fishing, and environmentally insensitive fishing methods have led to myriad problems, both with human health and the health of the environment. In order to be a conscientious consumer of ocean creatures, you will want to consider the following questions to help you choose the best seafood option:
What’s in season?
Like fruits and veggies, fish are best when they’re “harvested” in their prime. Look for the “catch of the day” – these deals are usually the freshest, best, and cheapest!
Status check: green, yellow or red?
Where was it caught?
Did this fish have to fly (in an airplane) to get to you? Knowing this can help you minimize the environmental impact of your choice.
How was it caught?
Different fishing methods cause different levels of stress or damage to the water and the ocean floor. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a great source of information on sustainable seafood, and they have a page dedicated to sustainable fishing methods.
Where is it on the food chain?
On the advice of Barton Seaver (seafood chef and author of For Cod and Country) and the NRDC, it’s best to eat lower on the food chain than higher. The reason: smaller fish species tend not to be over-fished the way large species are, and have way lower mercury levels.
How much mercury?
Mercury contamination is common in large fish (tuna, for example), and can cause serious illness if accumulated in significant amounts by the body. Check out the NRDC’s Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish.
Finally, if you’re uncertain about a fish or fish product, you can always look for the blue seal. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is “a global organization working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood.” If a product has the MSC seal, then you know it abides by strict standards to protect the environment.
(image: Cannery Row)