Whether you’re at the fish counter or your favorite seafood restaurant, these tips will help you be a more confident consumer.
Skip the Heavy Hitters
Larger, longer-living predatory fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, orange roughy, tilefish, and overfished Bluefin tend to have higher concentrations of mercury.
Embrace the New
Think beyond farmed salmon and try varieties like lingcod and Acadian redfish. Eat These Fish! (eatthesefish.com) is a campaign launched by the Environmental Defense Fund to promote these and other well-managed domestic fisheries.
Opt for Small Fish
Don’t turn up your nose at herring, Pacific sardines, and anchovies. They might be small (and somewhat stinky), but they offer impressive amounts of omega-3 fats, protein, and vitamin D. And with short lives, they don’t accumulate many toxins like mercury. Canned sardines can elevate sandwiches and side dishes; anchovies dissolve into sauces and dressings for a shot of umami flavor; and pickled herring is great on crackers or as a fork-to-mouth protein-packed snack.
Don’t Be Fresh-Obsessed
Much of the “fresh” seafood sold at supermarkets has been shipped frozen and then thawed for display at the fish counter. So the seafood you find in the freezer aisle can actually be a bit fresher than what’s sold as “fresh” and sitting around on a bed of ice for a day or two. Plus, frozen lets you use it when you want.
If you’re standing at the fish counter flummoxed about how to make the most sustainable choice, help is within reach. Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app (found at seafoodwatch.org) for up-to-date recommendations on planet-friendly seafood and sushi. Or text 30644 with the word “fish” followed by a space and the name of the seafood you’re considering. You’ll get the scoop from the Blue Ocean Institute, which has facts and sustainability ratings for dozens of species.
Shop Close to Home
With some of the strictest regulations in the world, U.S. fisheries have made considerable progress toward ending overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks. Further, when fewer countries are involved in the distribution process from sea to dinner plate (up to 90 percent of seafood sold in the United States is imported), there is less risk of mislabeling one species as another. (For information on just how common mislabeling is, go to oceana.org/our-campaigns/seafood_fraud/campaign.)
Surf the Web
People selling fish at the supermarket don’t always know how or where it was caught or farmed. In some cases, shopping for seafood online can make it easier to know exactly what you’re getting. Sites such as vitalchoice.com and fishex.com offer a bounty of nutritious, sustainable options like wild Alaskan salmon and sablefish, with reasonable shipping rates. You can also join a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) and receive a box of locally caught seafood weekly or monthly. Find one at localcatch.org.
Look for Seals of Approval
Labels from the Marine Stewardship Council, Wild American Shrimp, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and Global Aquaculture Alliance indicate that seafood comes from reputable sources. Note that some farmed fish is being sold as “organic,” though U.S. Department of Agriculture standards are not yet in place.
Dine With Care
Restaurant menus are notoriously populated by sketchy seafood options like imported shrimp and farmed salmon. But places participating in sustainability programs like FishChoice (fishchoice.com) verify that all of the swimmers on their menus hail from sustainably managed fisheries.
For more advice on how to make fish-shopping easier, check out “How to Choose Seafood That’s Nutritious, Sustainable — and Safe.”