If you’re concerned with the over-fishing that’s occurring throughout the world, you’re not alone. The actual definition of over-fishing is “non-sustainable use of the oceans,” which flies in the face of everything green, doesn’t it? Not to mention the concerns over mercury levels in different species of fish. Is it safe to even include fish in your diet anymore? Yes, absolutely. As with everything, moderation and education are the keys.
Fish provides you with Omega-3 fatty acids that can aid in heart health, as well as infant vision and brain development during pregnancy. Depending on the species, fish is also excellent source of lean protein and varied vitamins. White fish (cod, haddock, sole) has approximately 100 calories per 3.5 ounces and is high in vitamins A and D. Oily fish such as salmon have approximately 130 calories per 3.5 ounces and are high in vitamins B6, B12, as well as niacin.
So, fish is healthy for sure. How do you include it in your family’s diet without poisoning them with mercury or being the one who eats the last fish of a species? As far as the mercury is concerned, nearly all fish have traces of mercury in them; the goal is to find the most nutrient dense fish with the lowest mercury levels. The FDA has advised that swordfish, shark, king mackerel, or tilefish should never be eaten (especially by pregnant or nursing women, women of childbearing age, or children under the age of 16) due to their high mercury levels. You shouldn’t eat more than twelve ounces of fish like salmon, shrimp, catfish, and pollock per week. Canned light tuna has less mercury than albacore or tuna steak, so it is a healthier choice for your family.
Overfishing is another issue entirely. There are several organizations that can make your life a little less complicated. When shopping, look for the Marine Stewardship Council Certification label to be assured that the fish you’re about to eat is from sustainable sources. If you visit their website, www.msc.org, you can find shops in your area that carry MSC labeled products. In March of 2009, Country of Origin (COOL) labeling became mandatory for meats and fish and shellfish (as well as many other foodstuffs) sold in grocery stores and club stores such as COSTCO. Your local fishmonger isn’t required to list the country of origin for his fish, so be sure to ask before you buy. The label has the potential to inform you of many important things. First, it will list potential toxins that could be in your fish—including mercury levels. Secondly, the labels will educate you about the countries of origin and whether or not they are following sustainable fishing practices, so you’ll be able to find out whether or not the fish you’re about to buy is a victim of “non-sustainable use of the ocean.”
Several aquariums have started programs to help people make healthy and responsible seafood choices, including the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, (www.aquariumofpacific.org) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California (www.montereybayaquarium.org). Both aquariums offer classes and have dedicated portions of their websites to assist consumers with their seafood choices; offering lists of sustainable and safe seafood choices that are updated regularly and easily navigated, as well as printable “pocket guides” to take with you to your local market or restaurant.
As a consumer, it takes a bit of work to make responsible, safe choices for yourself and the environment. Things like only eating fish when they’re in season locally, choosing wild over farmed, and potentially spending more money can be daunting, but definitely worth it in the long run. And definitely appreciated by the planet and the fish!