Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dirty Dozen of Fish

Fresh caught Louisiana shrimp
On the 'safe' list of sustainable choices
Photo courtesy of eightylbs
I love fish, I love seafood, I love just about anything that is caught, netted or man handled out of that deep blue water. This was always the one exception to my 90% vegetarian lifestyle and as usual ignorance is bliss. At a restaurant I felt like I could safely order the grilled tuna without compromising our precious earth or supporting the practice of industrial farmed livestock. In my mind I would see a happy little tuna swimming through the wide open sea enjoying its tuna life and then it would gently be pulled from the water and brought fresh to my plate, always prepared rare and guilt free and delicious. And of course nothing is ever this simple. I did not know about the conditions in which many fish are farmed or caught and the regulations (or lack there of) of this industry. This simple and to the point '12 Fish You Should Never Eat' article on Rodale helped shed some light on the situation, a bright light that opens your eyes and makes you see things you didn't want to see, kind of like when you finally put a good light bulb in the closet and apparently there's a ton of dust, dirt and crusty socks that you overlooked before. The crusty socks part being the metaphor for I love fish and now I see that I shouldn't be eating the kinds I love most.

Most of us are familiar with the dirty dozen; what vegetables to buy organic, apparently there is also a dirty dozen in the fish world. 12 of the most over fished, mercury laced, over medicated and under regulated fish you probably eat on a regular basis.

  1. Imported Catfish
    Antibiotics that are banned in the U.S. are used regularly in Vietnam where nearly 90% of imported catfish come from. Swai and Basa, the two most popular types imported, aren't technically even catfish so inspection isn't as strict as it is for other imported catfish.

    Make sure you know where your catfish came from. Domestic farmed catfish is safe, farmed responsibly and is really tasty. 

  2. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
    Highest levels of mercury of any type of tuna and they are way overharvested to the point of almost extinct. Giving up tuna altogether is best, but if you must and I mean must, chose American or Canadian albacore tuna because they catch them young and it will contain less mercury.

  3. American Eel
    I really love bbq eel sushi, so I'm sad to see this info: highly contaminated with PCBs and mercury. There are also some problems with over fishing and pollution.

  4. Imported Shrimp
    Award for the dirtiest on the list and about 90% of shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported making it pretty hard to avoid. 
    "Imported farmed shrimp comes with a whole bevy of contaminants: antibiotics, residues from chemicals used to clean pens, filth like mouse hair, rat hair, and pieces of insects," Cufone says. "And I didn't even mention things like E. coli that have been detected in imported shrimp." Part of this has to do with the fact that less than 2 percent of ALL imported seafood (shrimp, crab, catfish, or others) gets inspected before its sold, which is why it's that much more important to buy domestic seafood. http://www.rodale.com/12-fish-you-should-never-eat?page=5
    Gross. Endless shrimp at Red Lobster looks even nastier.
    Buy Oregon pink shrimp, or U.S. Gulf Coast Shrimp.

  5. Atlantic Salmon (both wild-caught and farmed)
    Farmed salmon is actually one of the reasons wild Atlantic salmon stocks are so low and are now illegal to capture. 
    Thousands of fish are crammed into pens, which leads to the growth of diseases and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides. Often, the fish escape and compete with native fish for food, leading to declines in native populations. Adding to our salmon woes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving forward with approving genetically engineered salmon to be sold, unlabeled, to unsuspecting seafood lovers. That salmon would be farmed off the coast of Panama, and it's unclear how it would be labeled. Currently, all fish labeled "Atlantic salmon" come from fish farms. http://www.rodale.com/12-fish-you-should-never-eat?page=7

  6. Imported King Crab
    Identity issue here - Imported King Crab is often misnamed and mislabeled as Alaskan king crab making you assume its from Alaska when really its likely from Russia where limits on fishing aren't strongly enforced.

    Even though it says 'Alaskan' and you might feel like a boob asking, ask if it is actually from Alaska were they are more responsibly harvested.

  7. Shark
    Who doesn't want to be a badass and say they eat shark? Well, time to find other ways to pick up chicks at a bar:
    Problems associated with our eating too many sharks happen at all stages of the food chain, says Cufone. For one, these predatory fish are extremely high in mercury, which poses threats to humans. But ocean ecosystems suffer, too. "With fewer sharks around, the species they eat, like cownose rays and jellyfish, have increased in numbers," Cufone says. "And the rays are eating—and depleting—scallops and other fish." There are fewer of those fish in the oceans for us to eat, placing an economic strain on coastal communities that depend on those fisheries. http://www.rodale.com/12-fish-you-should-never-eat?page=9
  8. Orange Roughy
    Just don't even eat this one, ever. It takes up to 40 years for orange roughy to reach full maturity and they reproduce late in life. Do the math, if you're eating one it's going to make it really hard for the population to recover. And if it says 'sustainably harvested' it's BS.

  9. Chilean Sea Bass
    Am I the only one that thinks Dumb and Dumber when I hear the word Sea Bass?
    We're looking at extinction of this species within 5 years unless we stop eating this fish. Also, most of the Chilean Sea Bass sold in the U.S. was illegally harvested and this is a fish that is high in mercury. Pretty much don't ever eat this one either.

  10. Atlantic Flatfish - Flounder, Sole and Halibut
    This is a group of fish caught off the Atlantic coast and it's populations are also crucially low due to heavy contamination and overfishing. Pacific halibut on the other hand seems to be doing ok, so choose that for dinner instead.

  11. Atlantic Cod
    New England fisherman rely on this for their economy, however, the species is now listed as just one step above endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. Pacific cod is a better choice and one of Food and Water Watch's best fish picks.
    Apparently this is what Atlantic Cod look like. I just
    assumed they came out of the water deep fried.
    Photo courtesy of j.corke
  12. Caviar
    All forms of caviar come from fish that take a long time to mature, which means that it takes a while for populations to rebound. If you really need to impress someone, and caviar is the only way, go with American Lake Sturgeon or American Hackleback/Shovelnose Sturgeon caviar from the Mississippi River system.

Soooo... What's left to eat? Its easy to look at that long list of things not to do and frown, but turn that frown upside down because there are a lot of sustainable and delicious species to choose from. The Monterey Bay Aquarium keeps an up to date list of sustainable seafood choices available in different regions of the U.S. found here. Some of my personal favorites include U.S. farmed catfish, lake whitefish, yellow lake perch, red snapper and of course U.S. Gulf of Mexico shrimp (always great sales at Whole Foods!)


Admin said...

Whole Foods tweeted over this press release that they are offering Chilean Sea Bass from an Antarctic fishery that has been certified to the MSC’s environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. They stopped selling Sea Bass in August 1999 "due to overfishing and a threat of extinction from modern-day pirates who had poached more than half of the world’s sea bass catch" and are one of the first retailers to offer it with backing from the MSC. Thank you to Whole Foods not only for the info they sent, but also for caring.

Admin said...

press release: http://wholefoodsmarket.com/pressroom/blog/2006/09/25/whole-foods-market-brings-back-patagonian-toothfish-chilean-sea-bass/

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