Unless you’ve been living on the bottom of the sea for the past several years, you’ve heard some of the controversy about the health benefits and risks associated with eating fish. A natural source of protein with positive effects on heart health, fish can contain hazardous mercury and sometimes PCBs (toxic industrial chemicals that accumulate at the bottoms of rivers, lakes and coastal areas and build up in the fatty tissues of fish).
Most experts agree you can safely reap the benefits of eating fish by limiting consumption to once per week (or less often if the fish is high in mercury). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that pregnant women, nursing mothers and children should not eat swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel because of high mercury content. The FDA also advises women and children to limit tuna consumption.
Then there are the tricky environmental issues: Many fish, including Atlantic cod, orange roughy, Chilean seabass and bluefin tuna, are dangerously overfished. Some aquaculture methods, including salmon farming, produce concentrated fecal waste that pollutes surrounding waters. And the methods for catching some fish in the wild–such as trawl nets, dredging and traps–kill other species. (Swordfish, for example, are caught on long lines that entangle endangered sea turtles.) Seafood Watch estimates more than 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fully fished or overfished, so these issues are more important than ever.
Fortunately, Seafood Watch can help you make ocean-friendly choices, and The Green Guide evaluates mercury and PCBs in seafood. Both offer downloadable pocket guides to healthy, sustainable choices (see “Pick-of-the-Catch Websites,” page 76).
A few supermarket labels are also helpful. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies sustainable fisheries; you’ll find MSC-labeled fish at stores such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Safeway and even Wal-Mart. And as always, look for “dolphin safe” and “turtle safe” designations.
Recipe Courtesy Dory Ford, executive chef for Bon Appétit Management Company at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
This Thai favorite is traditionally served with steamed rice and a side salad of lettuce, cucumber, basil and cilantro to aid digestion. Shrimp are low in mercury, and Seafood Watch recommends you choose domestic rather than imported shrimp. U.S. shrimp trawlers use turtle-safe nets, and U.S. environmental laws minimize the damage shrimp farms cause to mangrove forests.
Recipe CourtesyRick Bayless chef/owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Chicago
This recipe uses bottled tomatillo salsa and tahini (sesame paste) instead of traditional ground pumpkin seeds for the Mexican-style pipián sauce, so a zesty dinner is only minutes away. Seafood Watch recommends Marine Stewardship Council-certified, wild Alaskan salmon, which is low in mercury and contains few or no PCBs. Farmed salmon can be problematic because farms release waste directly into the ocean and salmon farmers often rely on antibiotics and pesticides to control disease.
Recipe Courtesy Jerry Traunfeld, executive chef, The Herbfarm, Woodinville, Washington
Shiso is an aromatic green leaf, available at gourmet stores or Asian markets, used to flavor Japanese dishes such as sushi and tempura. (You may substitute chopped mint or cilantro.) Seafood Watch recommends black cod, also known as sablefish, from Alaska or British Columbia, where the populations are abundant and the fisheries are well managed. Black cod contains moderate amounts of mercury, so eat this fish no more than twice a month.
Resources: Pick-of-the-Catch Websites
• GotMercury.org: A calculator figures how much fish and shellfish you can safely eat per week.
• Green Guide: Downloadable Smart Shoppers’ Fish Picks Card rates seafood choices according to mercury levels.
• Environmental Defense: Best and worst seafood choices from ecological and contamination standpoints.
• Seafood Choices Alliance: Environmentally conscious suppliers, species and restaurants.
• Seafood Watch: Downloadable seafood guide listing fish according to their level of endangerment.
• Marine Stewardship Council: Stores where you can buy certified sustainable fish.