The past few years, fish has been a major topic of discussion. It’s been recommended by nutritionists for its many health benefits — omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and protein, to name a few — but concerns about genetic engineering and GMOs, contaminants, and mislabeling can steer people away. The dilemma about whether or not to eat fish is further complicated by the fact that traditional methods of fishing are quickly depleting our oceans; our demand for fish and methods of obtaining it are unsustainable.
The question of whether or not to eat fish (and if so, which ones) is a complicated one. There are a few things that everyone should consider before eating seafood.
All fish are not created equal when it comes to nutrition. Salmon, sardines, and tuna are notoriously good choices from a nutritional standpoint; all three are oily fish which means they are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that eating oily fish like those can reduce inflammation in the body, alleviating conditions like arthritis and preventing blood vessel damage that leads to heart disease; eating at least one to two servings of omega-3-rich fish each week appears to reduce the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, some oily fish can be higher in contaminants like mercury or dioxin than other fish, and salmon in particular may be genetically engineered, so knowing exactly where your fish comes from is important. Lots of whitefish can be healthy choices to but as much as one third are mislabeled, so you may not be getting the fish you think you are.
One of the primary concerns about modern fishing (which usually involves trawling the ocean floor with a giant net that grabs both wanted and unwanted items) is that it is damaging aquatic ecosystems – some to the point that they cannot be repaired. There are many who believe that if fishing continues in this manner, wild-caught fish will disappear altogether — we will completely deplete the ocean. Trawling destroys coral and injures (or kills) a number of sea creatures (which are then carelessly thrown back into the ocean). Charles Clover, British journalist and author of The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and What We Eat, says this in his book: “imagine what people would say if a band of hunters strung a mile of net between two immense all-terrain vehicles and dragged it at speed across the plains of Africa…. left behind is a strangely bedraggled landscape resembling a harrowed field… this efficient but highly unselective way of killing animals is known as trawling… it is practiced the world over every day, from the Barents Sea in the Arctic to the shores of Antarctica and from the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the central Pacific to the temperate waters off Cape Cod.”
Whether you want to avoid genetically modified foods, are eating for specific nutritional benefits, or are concerned about the environmental impact of your food, you need to know where your fish comes from. Much of the world’s fish are now raised using a combination of techniques (even some wild-caught fish may be started in a hatchery or fish farm), so transparency is key. Whether you choose farm-raised or wild-caught varieties, try to buy fish as close to its point of origin as possible (and ask questions) so that you can be sure you’re getting the fish you think you are.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re choosing to eat seafood, but choosing nutritious and sustainable seafood doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep this list handy to take the guesswork out of choosing the right fish.
US Hook-and-Line-Caught Pacific Cod
Pacific cod is a great source of Vitamin B12. Be sure to purchase trap-caught or hook-and-line-caught Pacific cod, though, as most Pacific cod is caught using damaging trawling methods.
US Farmed Rainbow Trout
Though many trout populations are threatened or endangered, U.S.-farmed rainbow trout are raised using environmentally friendly practices. Try U.S.-farmed rainbow trout as a good source of protein.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.
For more information on sustainable seafood, use the Monteray Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Seafood Search tool.