Take Easy Steps to Find Safe Seafood
January 16, 2022
A large body of research supports the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet - especially for pregnant women, yet American diets are highly deficient in them. While fish are an amazing source of both omega-3s and protein, they are also often contaminated with methyl mercury (which is a potent neurotoxicant) and PCBs (which have been linked to cancer). People should neither avoid fish consumption, nor consume fish blindly.
Use this checklist to help you find safe fish and seafood:
- Buy your fish from someone whom you can ask questions. Ask where the fish came from, when it is in season, if it was farmed or is wild. If it’s farmed, how was it grown? If it’s wild, how was it caught? Is this fish really a… (red snapper, grouper, wild salmon, etc.)? According to the Environmental Defense Fund, these are prime candidates for fish fraud.
- If you eat fish that you or someone else has caught, ALWAYS check if there is an advisory against eating the seafood. Contact your state department of health or check out the US Environmental Protection Agency’s state-by-state list of fish advisories.
- Look for fish that are lowest in contaminants. Opt for species that are small in size, low in fat, and don’t live on the bottom of waterways. Safe (or at least safer) fish include: herring, mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub), anchovies, sardines, clams, Wild Alaskan salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and slack sea bass. Reduce or eliminate the most contaminated fish from your diet, including: ahi or bigeye tuna, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and fish caught in any waters that are subject to a mercury advisory. In regards to canned tuna, Albacore tuna or solid white tuna is most likely to have higher concentrations of mercury, and chunk light tuna, lower concentrations. Print the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Safe Seafood Pocket Guide, get the Safe Seafood app for your iPhone, or use FishPhone (Blue Ocean’s text messaging service) to always have safe fish information on hand.
- Choose wild-caught instead of farmed seafood for most species. Farming can have negative impacts on the environment and health. This is especially true for Atlantic salmon.
- Keep servings in proportion and eat different kinds of seafood from meal to meal. For an adult, a serving size is about 4 to 6 ounces. Serve proportionately less for a child—about 2 to 3 ounces. Try not to eat the same fish or shellfish more than once a week. Since children get most of their mercury from canned tuna, it is important for parents to limit their children’s consumption to less than one ounce of canned light tuna for every 12 pounds of body weight per week, in order to stay below the level of mercury the EPA considers safe.
- Reduce PCBs, dioxins and some pesticides in fish and shellfish by using cooking methods that reduce fat:
- Trim fat, skin, and any darker meat along the top or center of the fillet.
- Remove the mustard from crabs and the tomalley from lobsters.
- Broil, grill, bake or steam to cook the seafood. Use a pan that allows fat to drip away from the fish, such as a broiling pan or steaming basket. Avoid frying fish.
- Avoid sauces made from liquid fish drippings or cooking water.
- Avoid dishes that call for whole fish with internal organs intact.
NOTE: Mercury cannot be reduced by these methods.
- Consider reducing your consumption of fish that are over-fished or raised / harvested in an environmentally questionable manner. You can send a text message to the Blue Ocean Institute’s Fish Phone to instantly learn sustainable seafood information. To find out about your seafood choice, text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question. They’ll text you back with their assessment and better alternatives to fish with significant environmental concerns.