The question of what seafood is “okay” to eat has become increasingly difficult to answer in recent years. Here are some of the main concerns surrounding seafood consumption that we need to consider as responsible consumers who want to protect both human and ocean health.
Is the species overfished?
As consumers we must determine if a species was fished in a manner that allows its supply to recover and/or prosper. Whether buying wild caught or farmed fish, our choices matter. Remember that the market will respond to both our individual and collective choices as consumers. Our choices influence every step in a given species path from ocean to plate.
Be aware that it has been determined that a high percentage of seafood products are mislabeled. Looking for words like “local”, “fresh,” and “wild-caught,” may or may not be a good start. A recent study reports that illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing accounts for 20% of the global catch.
In order to make a real impact, start asking questions. Inquire at restaurants, grocery stores and markets where the seafood you are buying comes from, how it was produced, and if it was fished sustainably.
Often making a simple swap and being open to trying something new can make a difference. For instance, choose haddock over cod, or perhaps a sustainably farmed aquaculture variety. Ask a fishmonger about lesser known species, which are often just as good and even cheaper that more popular species.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch offers a handy print out for US regions and even a sushi guide that you can keep in your wallet. It can be found here. The organization Seafood for the Future runs another website that is helpful to consumers in determining seafood sustainability.
Is the species safe for human consumption?
Seafood consumption can contribute to human health. Oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, and trout, provide our bodies with proteins, vitamins A and D, and other vitamins and minerals. These species also contain healthy omega 3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease.
On the other hand, seafood high in mercury has been determined to be hazardous to your health A good rule of thumb to remember that smaller fish have less mercury. For more information about health and mercury in fish, you can download a brochure from the FDA here.
Be aware that farmed fish aren’t always the answer, as they may have been fed a diet of fish meal produced from mercury-laden larger species. The “Got Mercury” calculator can help you make healthier seafood choices.
Another potential health concern
Eating shellfish during a red tide or harmful algal bloom can be dangerous. Some red tides or HABs produce neurotoxins that can cause serious illness or death. Local public health departments will advise citizens of such outbreaks.
What about farmed fish, anyway?
In coming years global aquaculture will continue to grow. It is predicted that within the next decade or so, most of the fish we eat will be farm-raised in either onshore or offshore facilities. As with everything having to do with the ocean environment, the issue of fish farming is complex, with various countries abiding by different standards.
Farmed raised fish potentially can alleviate the pressure on our wild stocks. But it is important to be aware that farm raised fish varies dramatically as far as sustainability, quality, and safety for human consumption. Although some of the potential hazards for human and ocean health are known, much research is still taking place.
By staying informed about new developments in the area of aquaculture and choosing seafood from higher quality farms implementing better research and utilizing quality production systems, you as a consumer can play a positive role in reducing the negative impacts on both fish and the ocean.