For years now, you’ve been told to get hooked on fish. This lean “other white meat” may not only help to reduce your waistline but also packs omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a host of benefits. But there’s a catch. Not all fish are good for you, largely due to overfishing or the contamination of waters from which they’re harvested. Here’s a brief rundown of which common types of fish you can welcome aboard your plate and which you should toss back.
Who doesn’t love tuna on toasted bread or nestled into a whole wheat pita? Next to grilled cheese or PB&J, it’s the classic American lunch. Unfortunately, this popular fish often contains high levels of mercury. Stay away from Atlantic bluefin tuna, in particular, because it is known to contain the highest levels of mercury and is also so overharvested that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has deemed it “critically endangered.” However, tuna caught by “troll or by pole” in the U.S. or British Columbia not only have less mercury but also higher levels of omega-3 by the sheer virtue of being young and under 20 pounds when caught.
Tip: To help you pick a healthier and more sustainable source of tuna, look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label.
This family of fish swims in the Atlantic and includes sole, flounder and halibut. They’re collectively called flatfish because they are bottom feeders that literally lie flat on the ocean floor, watching for potential prey to swim nearby from a pair of eyes perched on the same side of the head. Harvested from the Gulf of Maine to the coast of South Carolina, this type of fish is of major economic importance to the Northeastern U.S. fishing industry. Unfortunately, flatfish are severely depleted and their habitat poorly managed. In fact, according to Food and Watch, “population levels are between 1 and 9 percent of what they should be for sustainable catch levels.” These fish also contain high levels of mercury and PCBs.
Tip: Purchase Pacific halibut instead, or U.S. farmed tilapia. The former currently has healthy population numbers and the latter, per Food and Water Watch, rarely come in contact with antibiotics or chemical contaminants because they are raised in carefully controlled closed systems.
Yes: Alaskan wild-caught salmon. Genetically engineered (GE) salmon (aka Frankenfish) created and promoted as sustainable by the biotechnology industry that is anything but and further described by Food and Water Watch as “deficient, deformed and dangerous to you and the environment,” a resounding no. Alaska sets the gold standard in terms of managing its fisheries, including careful monitoring of water quality to ensure the lowest possible risk of contamination. As an added lure, a mere 3-ounce serving of wild-caught Alaskan salmon reels in a whopping 1,210 mg of omega 3s.
Orange roughy is a deep sea perch also known as slimehead. Because these guys mature slowly, mate later in life and can live well past 100 years, they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. In addition to a dwindling population, a health advisory concerning this fish has been issued by the Environmental Defense Fund due to high mercury contamination.
Tip: Lots of recipe books from the 1980s and 1990s call for orange roughy. To approximate texture and flavor in such recipes, consider yellow snapper as an alternative.
Chilean Sea Bass
For a long time, Chilean Sea Bass, also known as toothfish, was considered one of the top fish to avoid due to overharvesting and mercury contamination. However, more effective management of fisheries have resulted in a population comeback under more sustainable practices. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, the best choice is longline-caught Chilean seabass from the Heard and McDonald Islands, the Falkland Islands and Macquarie Island. If in doubt, look for the MSC eco-label to ensure it comes from a certified sustainable toothfish fishery.
These miniature members of the herring family are one of the only natural sources of vitamin D and provide more omega 3 than any other food, including salmon. Specially, we’re referring to the Pacific sardine (called iwashi when used in sushi) that are wild-caught in the U.S. or Canada. Their Atlantic cousins fished from the Mediterranean region should be avoided at this time due to overfishing and poor management practices.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a region where there are still a few freshwater streams flowing with trout but no chemical pollutants, then keep casting that fly rod. Otherwise, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends that you avoid wild-caught lake trout, with the exception of fish taken from Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The watchdog (watchfish?) organization further advises that the best source of rainbow trout is sustainably farmed fish.