Thanks to a few notable TV health personalities, many well-intentioned people have started to buy a lot more salmon and tuna. These fish are touted as good sources of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids, but unfortunately salmon is one of the worst things you could eat. But more on that later …
Although most of us realize that fish is nutritionally good for us, it is also becoming more widely known that our fish stocks are in trouble and levels of mercury found in some fish can be toxic. We need to be more mindful of the fish that we choose to eat Taras Grescoe, author of a book that I recommend called Bottomfeeder, outlines a few helpful guidelines to follow when buying seafood:
- When you are far from the seashore, as we are here in Ottawa, cheap seafood is suspect seafood. It was probably farmed, and may have gone through several cycles of freezing and thawing before arriving on your table.
- Avoid fish that has traveled far. The more fuel used to ship it, the less inclined you should be to buy it.
- Avoid long-lived predator fish (sharks, swordfish, Chilean sea bass, tuna). Because they are at the top of the food chain, these fish tend to contain the highest levels of mercury.
- Avoid farmed shrimp, tuna, salmon and other species that are fattened with other fish; they tend to have higher levels of dioxins and other persistent organic pollutants. Instead, favour tilapia, carp, catfish, and other species that are fed vegetable, rather than animal, protein.
- If you have a choice, choose organically farmed salmon, cod and trout; stocking densities are lower and they tend to be treated with fewer chemicals.
- Opt for seafood at the lower end of the food chain, from mackerel down to oysters. Bottom feeding is better for your health, and the health of the oceans.
The fishing methods to look for (and if it is not indicated on the packaging, assume the worst) include:
- Hook and Line
- Trolls (not to be confused with Trawls)
- Harpoons and scuba
- Purse Seines
- Pots and Traps
Avoid eating fish that have been caught with any of these methods:
- Midwater trawls. These tend to be the worst in terms of bycatch and damage to the environment but the midwater trawl is the best of the worst because it does not rake the ocean floor.
- Longlines. Bottom longlines are the best of the worst because they are much shorter and have a lower impact on sharks, turtles other mammals and little effect on birds.
- Gill nets. These can tangle just about anything, so rates of bycatch tend to be high.
- Dredges. Industrial vessels hauling large dredges, which comb the sea bottom for shellfish, have damaged fragile habitat for fish, probably permanently, in many oceans.
Absolutely never buy fish that has been caught with drift nets or ghost nets, dynamite & cyanide and bottom trawlers.
Grescoe conveniently has a comprehensive list at the back of his book of the fish to eat always, sometimes/depends and never. Following are “Never” and “Always” lists. Please refer to his book for the sometimes/depends list and a wealth of eye opening, thought-provoking, and (for me) life-changing information.
No, never eat these fish
Bluefin tuna. Often called toro in Japanese restaurants, it is severely overfished and listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. “Farmed” bluefin are actually juvenile tuna taken from the wild before they can reproduce; they are fattened with smaller fish.
Cod, Atlantic. Most cod stocks in the western Atlantic have collapsed and show no sign of recovery. The Canadian government has declared the northern cod an endangered species and the cod of Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine are considered a critical management concern. Some frozen cod in North American supermarkets comes from the Barents Sea North of Scandanavia, where extensive illegal fishing occurs. An alternative is expensive organic farmed cod, currently being raised by companies in Scandinavia and Scotland. Fished by pirate vessels.
Halibut, Atlantic. Atlantic halibut, a deepwater flatfish that can weigh up to seven hundred pounds, has been fished to the brink by trawls. Stocks off the U.S. coast in the Gulf of St.Lawrence have collapsed, and halibut are considered endangered by the IUCN.
Chilean sea bass. Also known as Patagonian toothfish, this long-lived deep-sea fish is subject to extensive pirate fishing. Only one fishery has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council; unless you know (and you are unlikely to) that your Chilean sea bass comes from the south Georgia winter longline fishery in the Atlantic, avoid it.
Grouper. grouper are overfished west of Florida and in Gulf of Mexico, where three quarters of the U.S. catch comes from (often mislabeled in Florida as Hake or Basa). These long-lived reef predators, of which there are eighty-five known species, are especially vulnerable to overfishing, and toxins tend to accumulate in their flesh. Grouper from the northwestern Hawaiian islands are sustainably fished.
Monkfish. Heavily overfished, with bottom-destroying trawls, off the U.S. coast. Small grill-net fisheries, somewhat less harmful to the sea bottom exist in Canada and New Jersey. Also sold as angelfish and goosefish.
Ornage Roughy. These deep-sea fish, which can live up to 150 years, are being heavily overfished by highseas bottom-trawlers, which destroy fragile, slow-to-recover seamounts. Listed as threatened by the Australian government in 2006.
Shark, Dogfish. Sharks are undergoing catastrophic population crashes worldwide to supply the Asian shark fin soup market. Sharks produce few young, and large coastal species are slow-going and late to mature.
Skate. Like sharks, skates produce few young and are overfished.
Sole, Atlantic. Stocks of flounder, plaice, sole, and other flatfishes, which are fished on the Atlantic seafloor using trawls, are all in rough shape. Flat fish from the Pacific are not overfished.
Tilefish. Although some stocks of tilefish are overfished, the main reason to avoid them is their extraordinarily high levels of mercury. A single six-ounce serving of Gulf of Mexico tilefish will give you 520% of your weekly limit of mercury.
Absolutely, always eat these fish
Artic char & barramundi. Both species are farmed in land-based closed containment systems that don’t pollute the environment; barramundi is very high in omega 3′s.
Halibut, Pacific. Stocks are currently at a thirty-year high, and the bottom longline fishery in Alaska is Marine Stewardship Council-certified. An excellent alaternative to overfished Atlantic Halibut.
Herring. Now mostly fished with midwater trawls, Atlantic herring stocks are in good shape. High in Omega 3′s, low in toxins. Also known as kippers, rollmops and Solomon gundy.
Jellyfish. Eat them when you can find them; you’ll be doing the world a favour.
Mackerel. Fast maturing and prolific spawners, these tasty oily lfeshed fish are becoming more popular with chefs. Choose Spanish and Atlantic over Gulf of Mexico, which tends to contain mercury.
Mullet. Common off Florida and Louisiana, striped mullet is fished with small nets, with little bycatch.
Oysters, mussels. All but 5% of the world’s oysters are farmed. Mussels and oysters clean the oceans and reduce the size of dead zones, and are farmed without chemicals.
Pickerel. These are also known as walleye. Stocks of this white-fleshed freshwater fish are currently in good shape.
Pollock. Caught with mid-water trawls in the Bering Sea, the U.S. fishery is MSC-certified. Pollock is also sold as imitation crabmeat and goes into fast-food fish sandwiches and many kinds of fish sticks.
Sablefish. Also sold as black cod (not to be mistaken for illegally fished “black cod” from the Atlantic), this buttery-fleshed Pacific species is sustainably fished with bottom longlines and has been certified by the MSC. It is now being farmed.
Sardines. Abundant plankton-eating schooling fish, sardines are sustainably fished and full of omega 3′s. Canned or grilled, they make excellent eating.
Squid. Squid caught with trawls and hook-and-line, are not overfished, though their abundance can change with ocean conditions. For now, don’t worry too much about ordering Calamari.
Trout. Rainbow trout in North America is almost inevitably farmed, mostly in Idaho. Like salmon, it is a carnivorous fish, but since it is raised in inland ponds, the environmental impact of farming it is low.
Whitting, blue. Jump at any chance you get to eat these fish, which are now wastefully ground into fish meal. Other edible forage fish include blue whiting, capelin, anchoveta and sand lance; they are all low in contaminants, and tend to be excellent battered and fried.
So let’s talk about Salmon. On August 3, 2012, I drove by Produce Depot on Carling Avenue and saw a big sign advertising Salmon Fillets 5.99/lb from Chile and I knew that these salmon were farmed and that is something I will never consume. Here’s why:
- In 1995 the European companies (globally, three players control this $320 million-a-year industry) went to Chile to expand their salmon farms because of Chile’s long temperate-water coastline, lax environmental regulations and workers who would accept $33 for a 48-hour workweek. The country had no wild salmon of its own (farmed fish wreak havoc on wild, native species).
- Farmed fish is the aquatic equivalent of factory farmed chicken in battery cages with similar issues of disease and pollution in addition to driving wild species almost to extinction.
- Malachite green, a toxic fungicide used in the process of growing a salmon, was banned in Canada in 1992 but is still widely used on farmed fish in Chile and China.
- Feed manufacturers are adding more vegetable oil to pellets (the food fed to farmed salmon), which makes the health benefits of salmon evaporate. Because there is less fish oil in their diet, farmed salmon typically have much lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon.
All information in this article was taken from the book Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe and I would highly recommend adding it to your library. The lists in the back of the book are invaluable. I have copied them and refer to them when eating out and they are with me whenever I travel.
A final word of caution
I think reading labels is absolutely mandatory when food shopping. Unfortunately, in a cross-country survey of American supermarkets, Consumer Reports found that 56% of salmon fillets were labeled as wild-caught when they were in fact farmed.
What, then, do we do as consumers? Look for labels approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or alternatively think of fish as a very special treat to be enjoyed when you are close to the seaside and you can buy it fresh. But there are a few websites that can help: www.seachoice.org, msc.org, fishbase.org. This website: gotmercury.org is a simple calculator to determine the amount of mercury you are getting from your seafood.
Make it a new habit! Before you go shopping, check out one of these websites to see which fish are the best fish to eat.