In addition to being a tasty source of protein, many fish contain heart-healthy benefits and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Some examples of fish that contain high amounts of omega-3 FA’s are salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna. To reap the heart-healthy benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish 2x per week. But some fish species contain high levels of mercury and there are certain fish that should be avoided, especially for those who are pregnant, nursing or feeding young children. For more information on eating seafood while pregnant or nursing, check out a separate guide provided by the Academy of Nutrition.
Whether you’re grocery shopping or dining out, when it comes to choosing farm-raised or wild seafood, it’s important to understand what types of fish are safer to eat and the effect it has on the environment and our health. Read on to learn more about sustainable seafood and a fish guide for lower mercury choices.
To help you decide what fish to eat or buy, let’s go over the basic fish terms found on restaurant menus, fish aisles and package labels.
Farm Raised – Farmed fish are the exact opposite of wild fish– they are farm raised in pens. Farmed raised fish are often overcrowded, which allows for little room to swim and can also cause many issues. First, raising large quantities of fish in such a small space leads to increased waste, toxins and risk for disease. Some (not all) farms try to prevent or combat this by treating the fish with antibiotics. In addition, farm raised fish are often fed wild fish, which contributes to overfishing. In addition, farmed fish are fed smaller fish. These small fish may contain toxic contaminants, which when fed to other fish, may cause a buildup of the very same toxins.
Common farmed fish include imported fish, Atlantic salmon (which is fancier name for farmed salmon), striped bass and shellfish. If the fish you’re purchasing is farmed, be sure it’s USA-farmed, as environmental standards in other countries may be inconsistant and/or not regulated.
Here’s the Catch
Opt for domestic fish over imported fish – American farmed fish generally have more stringent rules than fish sourced from other countries.
Choose locally caught fish – Not only is this more sustainable, but you’re supporting local farmers while getting fresher catch
Choose fish caught by line or troll – Even wild fish can be caught using unsustainable practices. Fish caught by large nets can cause damage to the ecosystem since they result in high “by-catch”–species that were unintentionally caught.
Check your local advisory – Seafood risks change seasonally and can vary from species to the state where you’re fishing. Stay up to date with the Environmental Protection Agency’s fish advisory.
Choose fish low on the food chain – Since they live the shortest amount of time, they accumulate the least amount of toxins. Fish low on the food chain include sardines, anchovies, mussels, oysters and clams.
Use a mobile app to keep a pocket guide in handy – Download the Seafood Watch app provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium app to help you stay up-to-date with seafood and sushi recommendations.
Choose Your Fish Wisely – Check out this fish guide below and more information provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council
Use this guide below to help you determine how which fish to eat in moderation and which fish to avoid based on high mercury levels. Whether you’re at a grocery store or dining out, there’s always a way to find out where and how the fish is sourced. As always, if you’re unsure about where your food comes from, always ask!