How to Make Sustainable Seafood Choices at the Fish Market

By Carl Safina, "Sea Change," March/April 2010

The seafood we eat has an enormous impact on our health today and the health of our oceans tomorrow.

"Thanks for a great article. Sure hope lots and lots of people read it. I've been eating sardines all my life (am now 74) and doctors are always amazed at how good my good cholesterol is. I tell them it's all the sardines I've eaten -...

The Simplest, Healthiest Solution

When people ask me now what fish to eat, I pause. The answers can seem confusing: Atlantic cod is not sustainable but Pacific is. Alaskan salmon is fine. Most farmed salmon—even organic—is not, as many salmon farms are infecting and threatening the wild species. Most domestic shrimp is farmed sustainably or caught in ways that limit by-catch of fish and sea turtles. Much of the shrimp from overseas is not.

So my new rule of thumb is very, very simple: if a whole fish is small enough to fit on your dinner plate, it’s probably a good choice for both the environment and your own health.

Here’s why: smaller fish that are lower on the food chain tend to be abundant, fast-reproducing and more resilient to fishing pressure. Bigger fish usually live longer, taking years to mature and begin breeding. Because they’re near the apex of the food pyramid, there are fewer of them to begin with. So they’re much more vulnerable to overfishing and easily depleted. And slow-growing, long-lived, late-maturing fish like sharks and big tunas can’t just bounce back. Rebuilding will take time. And so far, we’re not giving them much of a chance.

Consequently, though I used to love grilled mako steaks, I won’t kill sharks anymore; it’s not good for them, and just as important, eating them is not good for me. Simply put, big, older fish accumulate more mercury than small and younger ones.

Next: Contaminants—Mercury, Pesticides and More Toxic Chemicals »

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