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12 Fish You Should Probably Never Eat

12 Fish You Should Probably Never Eat

A few years ago, I was at a sustainable seafood conference held in New York. The place was buzzing with equal parts excitement (surrounding innovations in aquaculture and sustainable fish stocks) and dread (surrounding the dwindling supply of healthy wild fish). One thing the experts largely agreed upon was that the idea of having a definitive and trusty list of fish to eat, as well as fish to avoid, was illusory at best. The reason is that conditions are changing so quickly, as are technology and the environment, that purchasing and consuming the “right” fish is like trying to hit a moving target. The takeaway is that if you want to make the right seafood choices, guides like Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch provide thoughtful guidance, but cannot provide the definitive answer as what to eat and avoid, because things are constantly changing.

The solution is not to give up and start eating shark and Bluefin Tuna (both on the “Avoid” list) or to stop eating fish altogether (although this should be a consideration for some, if not many) but to stay reasonably informed, as eating fish is kind of like shopping for a mortgage. All of that said, I did come upon a compelling list which was recently published by Rodale naming the dozen (or “dirty dozen”) varieties of fish that are pretty much always a bad idea to consume, taking into account everything from environmental impact to toxicity. The list is as follows:

Imported Catfish
Atlantic Cod
American Eel
Imported Shrimp
Atlantic Flatfish
Atlantic Salmon (Wild and Farmed)
Imported King Crab
Orange Roughy
Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna
Chilean Sea Bass

So the obvious question would be, “Well what the hell can I eat?” Well the list gives alternatives such as:

Domestic catfish
Yellow snapper
Pacific halibut
Wild Alaskan salmon
Wild gulf shrimp
Pacific cod
American lake sturgeon

The past few years have shown some positive signs in the industry of sustainable aquaculture producing relatively “clean” seafood in far less environmentally damaging ways. The trick is remaining informed and vigilant, knowing full well that unless things change for the better, buying and consuming the right fish will continue to be a difficult endeavor.

Safe, Sustainable Fish
9 Freaky Fish You Should Be Eating

Read more: Blogs, Conscious Consumer, Eating for Health, Environment, Following Food, Food, Green, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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2:55PM PDT on Sep 18, 2014

Martin, in many, many cultures fish was the mainstay ~ boring day after day mainstay ~ meat a rare, delightful luxury. In modern times, with meat plentiful, Catholics avoided it as a sign of devotion.
You make it sound like some perverse cult requirement, like biting off the heads of chickens FGS.

2:42PM PDT on Sep 18, 2014

Pufferfish aren't at the top of my list either!

11:27AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

The once abundant American lake sturgeon have become nearly extinct in the Great Lakes.

I don't believe they are numerous enough anywhere to sustain a regular catch.

11:22AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

Martin R, Catholics were never required to eat fish on Fridays.

They were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays so the tradition was to eat fish instead.

I know this because I was raised Catholic.

8:15AM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

Maybe we need to go back in time when 'Catholics' were required to eat fish on Fridays. Seemingly most non-Catholics avoided fish like some sort of religious contagion. Can't have any of the 'Catholic' stigma attached be eating fish on any day, let alone Fridays. I remember the hue and cry the fish industry would collapse without the mandatory fish consumption. Instead, removing compulsory fish consumption seemed to open the flood gates to anyone and everyone to eat fish. Time to reconstitute those darn mandatory Catholic Friday Fish Fry days. If it's Friday and you're eating fish, you may just be a Catholic. Horrors!!!

11:56PM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

We need stronger laws. I resent not eating a particular fish and see others eating them into oblivion. The same as I have driven fuel efficient cars my whole life, I'm 69, and resent others using gas guzzlers and ruining my air. I think we all would be more angry if we realized these gobblers of resources are ruining our world. Maybe that is why peoples from other countries get so mad at us Americans.

9:56AM PDT on Mar 16, 2014


10:37AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

At least 3 of the fish onthe "good" list come from the Pacific, and we now have to worry about radiation for Fukushima.

8:39AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013


8:21AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

I don’t necessarily agree with the printed list here. Your fish list should change with the news. I more frequently use the Monterey Bay Aquarium list referenced above, but not strictly. We need to take into consideration: overfishing; accumulated mercury, PCBs and pesticides from agriculture and industry washout in large older fish; inadvertent bycatch of non-target species with some fishing methods; radioactivity and poor inspection practices in some western (Asian) Pacific fish; possible petroleum and Corexit dispersant contamination in Gulf of Mexico fish; omega-3 fatty acid content; possible GE/GMO fish, vs. improving fish-farming practices in the U.S. and Canada and some Scandinavian locations. And—don’t forget to eat some fish you like.

The Best of the Best: July 2013*
Atlantic Mackerel (purse seine from Canada and the U.S.)
Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
Salmon, Canned (wild-caught, from Alaska)

Other Healthy "Best Choices"**
Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
Sablefish/Black Cod (from Alaska and Canadian Pacific)


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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