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Sustainable Seafood Choices Are Best

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Saturday, March 22, 2008


As volunteers, we get daily updates about Aquarium of the Pacific goings on, including such things as something new with one of our critters and things that affect us in some way. Last Tuesday’s update was on a topic that should be of great interest to anyone who eats fish:

With a recent federal government study saying that all Americans should do so twice a week to be more healthy, it is important that we choose our fish carefully for a variety of reasons.

In other words, we want fish that can sustain their populations, we want them caught and farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment, and we don’t want other fish or animals hurt in the process. It sounds simple to some people, I suppose, but keeping track of which fish is sustainable is a never-ending process that is more difficult than one might think.

Enter the Sustainable Seafood Forum (SSF), which is a partnership between the Aquarium, leading seafood distributors, restaurateurs and retailers. Members are committed to providing their customers with healthy seafood choices that are clearly identified and documented as coming from either sustainable wild stocks and/or sustainable aquaculture (fish farming) operations. Partners include SMG, the Aquarium’s food service provider, King’s Seafood Restaurant in Long Beach, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. For more on the Sustainable Seafood Forum, click here

To make sustainable seafood choices before you leave the house for the market or a restaurant, you also should check out NOAA’s Fishwatch website, where you can find all sorts of information on quite a few types of fish.

The weekend before our update, the SSF’s Sustainable Seafood Day was held at the Aquarium, with guests learning the ins and outs of choosing the right seafood, and while I missed this one, I have attended similar events and I highly recommend them to all fish lovers. They also have fish tastings and recipes for sustainable seafood. Yum!

The NMFS is the agency responsible for managing fisheries in U.S. waters, with the sole purpose involving regulating when, where, how, and how much people fish, but the process of actually designating a species as sustainable is not yet perfect, so this is somewhat problematic. The NMFS relies on equations such as optimum sustainable yield, and the maximum economic yield a resource can provide without decreasing the potential of the population to provide this economic yield.

With keeping an eye on how fish are caught, the NMFS looks for fishing methods that have, for example, some bycatch, which is animals that die as a result of being caught and discarded or otherwise harmed during the process of fishing. Longlining is one such method, but it does not do the damage that dredging or trawling can do to the ocean floor. The NMFS also must keep an eye out for fishing methods that cause such problems as habitat destruction, overfishing, and even waste issues from aquaculture that can affect the sustainability status of fisheries.

Confused yet? I know I am. Why should you even care about any of this, some of you may ask. Well, it’s easy to say that you can just refuse to eat seafood altogether, but consuming seafood does have its benefits.

Selected species are high in omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial to the human heart and which are not producible by the human body. Knowing what species of seafood to eat, how they are fished, and their levels of contaminants can help maximize the benefits while reducing the risks.

Mercury is a well-documented seafood contaminant especially in fish that are highly migratory, like tuna, or the bottom dwellers, such as halibut, one of my favorites. By choosing seafood based on how healthy it is for you, you already are taking part in sustainable seafood practices.

Despite the difficulties in figuring out whether fish are sustainable, the SSF and NOAA’s FIshwatch website can help. The SSF has as its advisors, distinguished scientists, who are experts on health and nutrition, aquaculture, fisheries, and environmental and social sustainability, and all involved in the forum are committed to working with fisheries and aquaculture operations to move them toward sustainability through education.

Criteria used by SSF in selecting sustainable choices include healthfulness, with the SSF concerned about the nutritional value and contamination levels for all populations of seafood, in order to be able to provide advice to sensitive populations, which include pregnant women. Other sensitive populations are nursing women, those who plan to become pregnant in the next 12-18 months, children younger than age 6, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

People who are considered “sensitive” should avoid eating not only seafood listed by SSF as “Some Seafood to Avoid,” but should also avoid such fish as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico (also called golden bass or golden snapper), Spanish mackerel from the Gulf of Mexico, haddock, herring, fresh or frozen tuna, and walleye from the Great Lakes or Canada.

These same groups may eat some seafood, but in limited servings every week or month. The acceptable seafood includes halibut, mahi-mahi, croaker, wild trout, marlin, grouper, and canned tuna.

For the rest of us, sustainable seafood includes salmon that is farmed or wild caught, herring, mackerel (Atlantic jack), chub mackerel (Pacific), sardines, Arctic char, anchovies, farmed or wild-caught striped bass, mahi-mahi, whitefish, farm-raised rainbow trout, Pacific flounder/sole, and whitefish. Others are farmed kampachi, tilapia, clams, mussels, and wild-caught halibut, which during the forum a few Saturdays ago were prepared and served by chefs from SMG, and King’s Seafood Restaurant and by Chef Lynne Preslo, who is a member of the Aquarium’s Board of Directors. The fish were supplied by Santa Monica Seafood Company and Long Beach Seafood Company.

Some seafood to avoid eating, again as per environmental, social and health standards set by scientists and governmental agencies, are Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna, orange roughy, Chilean seabass, shark, red snapper (Gulf of Mexico), canned albacore tuna, and Atlantic flounder/sole.

For good information about your seafood choices and to find recipes for sustainable seafood, check out NOAA’s FishWatch website. You also can read a bit about sustainable seafood and what we feed our animals in my fellow blogger Staci’s Oct. 26 entry.

I hope that I’ve been able to pique your interest in eating only sustainable seafood not just for your health, but also for the health of our planet.

Happy eating!

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