I am mad about seafood. Madly in love with how it tastes of the ocean: light, healthy and fresh. Wild fish are the last truly wild (as opposed to farmed) food that’s a regular part of the American diet. Fortunately, more and more companies, ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods, are sourcing their seafood sustainably and labeling it that way. And now that so much of the seafood in the Gulf of Mexico has been threatened by the oil spill (Louisiana has been the second biggest harvester of seafood in the U.S.) there’s even more reason to watch what we eat.
Now I get mad (in the other sense) when I see certain fish that have been over-harvested on restaurant menus. I’m not alone. More than 30 top chefs have signed the Seafood Watch pledge not to serve these fish, including The Food Network’s Alton Brown, Rick Moonen owner of RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Rick Bayless, owner of chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago.
Here are 6 fish you should ditch from your diet, and what to choose instead:
Don’t eat: Atlantic (or “Farmed”) Salmon
You will never eat, find or probably catch a wild Atlantic salmon. That’s because fish farms, dams and pollution have damaged the rivers where wild Atlantic salmon once spawned. Instead, you will find farmed Atlantic salmon (“Atlantic” refers to the species, not to where it was raised). Most farmed salmon is raised in crowded pens at the mouths of the same rivers the wild salmon spawn in. Parasites and lice from the crowded salmon farms have decimated the wild salmon populations, causing environmental groups to call for a boycott of farmed salmon until better farming practices are put into effect. Learn more about why you should choose wild salmon over farmed in “The Wild Salmon Debate”.
Choose instead: Wild Salmon
Some coho salmon is being farmed in closed-system freshwater tanks and recently got the green light as a good choice from SeafoodWatch.org. Otherwise, go for wild salmon, particularly from Alaska, which has strict regulations that make its fisheries among the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Wild salmon—which feed on other fish as opposed to the fishmeal that farmed salmon are fed—are also higher in omega-3s and lower in contaminants than farmed salmon. Try our healthy recipes for Easy Salmon Cakes and more.
Don’t eat: Bluefin Tuna
Last December, bluefin tuna became the only food in the world to appear simultaneously on the World Wildlife Fund’s list of 10 Threatened Species to Save and on the menu at Tavern on the Green (the former New York establishment, which has since closed its doors). Bluefin tuna, which can fetch up to $170,000 per fish on the Tokyo fish market, has been so overfished it is in danger of going the way of the giant panda and other animals on WWF’s list. It is also so high in mercury that the Environmental Defense Fund recommends that no one eat it.
Choose instead: Albacore Tuna
Albacore tuna caught in U.S. Pacific waters is a good alternative and has low levels of mercury (though pregnant women and infants are not advised to eat it and should choose chunk light tuna instead, as it’s lower in mercury). Enjoy it in our healthy recipes for Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad and more.
Don’t eat: Orange Roughy, Chilean Sea Bass, Monkfish, Grouper
I group these 4 fish together since they are often seen as “specials” on restaurant menus and are not as prevalent at fish markets. One reason: there just aren’t as many as there used to be. All these fish take a long time to mature and breed. They also live long (orange roughy can live to be 100—the fish you are eating “may be older than your grandmother” SeafoodWatch.org warns), so they are more likely to accumulate toxins in their bodies.
Choose instead: Mahi-Mahi, Pacific Cod or Tilapia
The same delicate white meat and full flavor can be found in mahi-mahi, Pacific cod or tilapia. Savor these fish in recipes for Potato-Horseradish Crusted Mahi-Mahi, EatingWell Fish Sticks and more.
If you want to learn more on how to shop for seafood that’s healthy for you and for the planet, check out our Green Choices: Seafood Buyer’s Guide.
What's your favorite fish? Tell us what you think below.