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Seagull in Front of a Fish & Chips Sign

There's no menu in which fish do not loom large. Chefs live to net a good special. Dieters love their low-fat protein. Doctors dig their healthy omega-3s. And most of the rest of us load up because fish just taste so darn good. But here's the catch: The world's stocks are fished-out, mercury-infused, and sinking fast.

That, however, hasn't stopped the reels of progress from grinding on. The global fishing fleet is so hungry for harvests it's grown to a size that's two and a half times larger than science says our oceans can sustainably feed. The net result is a worldwide fish catch that peaked some 15 years ago and a planet where 85% of all fisheries are overfished, on the verge, or past the point of collapse(1).

Then there's this little fly in the oceanic ointment: most fish are so contaminated with mercury that you'd have to be mad as a haddock to eat them. According to a new study conducted by the Bioresearch Diversity Institute, 84% of tested fish were unsafe to eat more than once per month, and most of the rest were too toxic to eat at all. In the waters off places like Italy, Japan and Uruguay, 100% of the study's samples were too polluted to eat more than once each month.

But fear not, epicureans. Sustainable seafood is not yet a complete oxymoron. These strategies can help hook a healthy dish of fish:

  • Research from the University of Arizona finds that the less mercury-muddled a given fish species is likely to be, the greater the odds that it's not overfished. They've discovered a simple rule-of-thumb we can use to guide us from the grocery store to the local sushi counter. Stay away from the toxic species and we're also avoiding the unsustainable choices and vice versa.
  • A number of organizations offer mobile apps, wallet guides, and other resources that identify fish we should not be eating. Four of my favorites are:

  • Finally, if you live near big water, consider joining a community-supported fishery (CSF). These operate just like the community-supported agriculture programs of which we've all become so fond. You pay an upfront fee at the start of the fishing season and enjoy a share of whatever the member boats bring in over the duration. In addition to local fish that's as fresh as it gets, you'll boost the fortunes of  your region's small fishing fleets, which have as much at stake in sustainable fisheries as the rest of us. For more information about CSFs visit the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Local Catch.Org.

We don't have to give up seafood, we just need to get a little smarter about which types we choose and where they come from. If we're careful, our wishes for fishes can always come true. Please pass the lemon…



Photo: elvispayne

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!