A Not-So-Fine Kettle of Fish
Food & Water Watch has just released its 2010 Smart Seafood Guide, and fish lovers would be wise to keep a copy handy for those times when the urge to feast on fruits de mar strikes.
The new guide differs in several significant respects from the seafood eco-guides we're used to seeing. For one, it's organized by type of fish, which lets lovers of, say, mild white fish easily identify preferable alternatives to their less desirable favorites. More importantly, instead of focusing only on the sustainability of the fish in question, the new resource takes a variety of other factors into account as well like the potential for contamination; the methods used to catch or farm the fish; and its "key species" status (i.e. whether or not the fish is needed for the survival of other wildlife). It's also the only seafood buying guide whose assessment includes the local economic, social, or cultural significance of its various fish species.
No other guide offers as comprehensive an assessment, and the result is extremely useful in all kinds of ways. It's just the thing for anyone who wants to enjoy one of nature's healthiest protein sources without swimming in a sea of guilt or worry. Here, for example, is its Dirty Dozen list of seafood that failed to meet at least two criteria:
- Imported King Crab. Keep your claws off imports of this delicacy, much of which comes from Russia, where prices are cheaper and regulations are few and far between.
- Caviar. The most desired comes from wild-caught sturgeon of various types, all of which are under siege from overfishing.
- Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. This species is now threatened with extinction thanks to overfishing. These gigantic fish also come with big concerns about mercury and PCB contamination.
- Orange Roughy. Known as slimeheads before marketers got a hold of them, orange roughys can contain mercury and have an extremely slow maturation process, which makes overfishing a problem.
- Atlantic Flatfish. Americans flat out love flounder, sole, and halibut but all of these species are dangerously overfished and in very serious trouble.
- American Eel. I've yet to see eel on any menus or fish counters. And that's a good thing because it's frequently contaminated by mercury and PCBs.
- Atlantic Cod. In cod we can no longer trust because this species was overfished to the point of population crash in the 1990s. In addition, the trawling nets used to catch cod cause lots of collateral damage to other sea life.
- Imported Catfish. Catfish farmed in the U.S. is fine, but keep your whiskers away from imports. The bulk of it comes from Southeast Asia where antibiotic and chemical regulations are loose to non-existent.
- Chilean Sea Bass. This popular fish can be contaminated by mercury, and illegal catches in Chile regularly harm sea birds and other marine life.
- Shark. This fish can contain high levels of mercury. It's also overfished and therefore nothing you want to put between your own jaws.
- Atlantic and Farmed Salmon. It's relatively cheap, but that's about the only thing this fish has going for it. Otherwise, it's frequently served with PCBs, pesticides, and antibiotics. And salmon farming is generally a dirty, highly polluting enterprise. Stick with wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
- Imported Shrimp. Gulf or Maine shrimp is okay, but some 90% of the shrimp sold in the U.S. comes from places where farming is poorly regulated and the widespread use of antibiotics and other chemicals create jumbo-sized problems.
That's just the tip of advisory iceberg offered by the new Food & Water Watch seafood guide. It's got a lot more to say about the kinds of fish we should be eating. Explore it online or download the pocket guide for use while shopping and net yourself a better, healthier catch-of-the-day.