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I’ll Have the Fish, Hold the Guilt

I’ll Have the Fish, Hold the Guilt

I love fish. I love swimming with them and I love eating them. I know this is kind of sick, but a trip to the aquarium will always put me in the mood for a nice piece of salmon. But wait, is it Atlantic salmon that’s a protected species? Is farmed OK? What about wild Alaskan salmon? Herein lies the problem. You can’t just go ordering fish off the menu all willy-nilly and a trip to the fish counter at your local grocery store is likely to make your head spin.

I worry about overfishing, pollution, and the threat that global warming is having on various species and fish habitats in oceans and streams all over the world. I could just not eat fish, but it’s so healthy and so delicious! And since I have been trying to eat less meat, fish has been starring in a lot more of my meals lately.

So instead of giving up fish, I have decided to educate myself. I’ve been reading about what kinds of fish to avoid, but how they are raised (farmed or wild–I guess if they’re wild they aren’t really being raised, but you get the idea) and how they are caught (line-caught or trapped and dragged) are also important considerations. Not to mention the contaminants–many fish contain mercury and polychlorinated biohenyls (PCBs) that are potentially harmful, especially if you are pregnant. Luckily I found a helpful list of rules to follow in Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style by Christie Matheson and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want salmon, opt for wild Pacific or Alaskan salmon. Farmed salmon tens to be high in pollutants and sadly low in flavor; wild Atlantic salmon is a protected species.

Wild salmon, sardines, squid, Arctic char, and Atlantic fluke are the lowest-mercury fish. Avoid other fishes such as sea bass, swordfish, Atlantic halibut and tuna–particularly if you are expecting. Don’t panic if you have a bite accidentally, but don’t order it every week as an entree either.

Avoid farmed shrimp, especially imported farmed shrimp, which is associated with high levels of pollutants that damage wild fish populations and degradation of mangrove forests. Also avoid shrimp caught by net-dragging (for every pound of shrimp caught, there are up to 15 pounds of bycatch, or other sea creatures such as sea turtles, killed.)

Think of fish more like you think of produce and eat it only when it’s in season near you. For example, mackerel swims up the eastern seaboard and passes by Boston in late May or so. That’s a darn good time to eat mackerel in Boston, and it’s the only time sustainability-minded Boston chefs will have it on the menu.

Ask questions! Find out where your fish came from, if it’s being harvested sustainably, what levels of mercury and PCBs it contains, and how it was caught. If they don’t know, say “no thank you!”

Now I know this is a lot to take in, and a lot to remember. The best tip I think I’ve heard is to carry a seafood information card, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch provides pocket size downloadable Seafood Watch Pocket Guides–these are regional and up to date and allow you to select fish from your part of the country.

And for more information, read Safe, Sustainable Fish: Easy Greening by my colleague Melissa Breyer who is much more of an expert than I am.

The bottom line is that fish is really good for you, and if you love it then there’s no reason not to eat it. With a little information and perhaps a cheat sheet in your back pocket, you can check your green guilt at the door of the fish market.

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Jana Ballinger

Jana Ballinger has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and copy editor for daily newspapers. She lives in a vintage house in Northern California with her husband and an orange cat.


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12:50PM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Thanks for posting this. My cat doesnt like fish can. I have 8 years old goldfish which he is 9 inches wide. My cat wont even bother my fish. : )

4:51AM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

Thanks for the article.

3:28PM PST on Mar 1, 2011

Great info.!

3:14PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010

To Nikki & her circle of life, I would say that the quest of humanity, in my opinion, is become better than our instincts and biological heritage would have us. Otherwise we would praise the strong for pushing aside the weak & would think that it was a good idea to cut off medical care & monetary aid to the elderly. Ours is a quest to rise above.

One form that quest can take is to realize that there is a better way than killing animals just because that is how raw nature was designed.

Vegetarianism is an emotional issue. People like what they like. But when you look at it from a biological viewpoint, examining each actual physical characteristic of vegetarian animals, omnivores and carnivores, there is no question. Biologically, we are vegetarians (measurements of intestinal length, digestive enzymes, stomach acid measurements, structures of teeth, fingernail versus claw composition, etc all indicate this)

But humans are also highly adaptable & opportunistic, so we started eating animal flesh & other animal products high in protein. This was a good thing during the ice age, or our species would not have survived, or only survived in a very small area on the planet. Long term, however, it has had consequences for the health of modern man. But during the ice age, people only lived short lives, & complications from excess protein consumption only tend to show up later in life.

But to consume fish & not contribute to the extinction of

3:03PM PDT on Aug 4, 2010

One of the ways we can support sustainable fishing is by eating smaller fish. The larger the fish, the higher up the food chain, and the longer it takes to mature and grow. When we eat Atlantic bluefin tuna, we are eating a fish that takes 8 years to reach sexual maturity. That means their population cannot easily recover from overfishing. And besides, there is the issue of dolphins and other creatures that are collateral damage.

On the other hand, most of Atlantic Pollock mature by age 3, cutting the recovery time in half for individuals taken from the population by fishing. Other fish, such as sardines and mackerel also have fast sexual maturity, and so can recover from overfishing faster.

One more factor is that the higher up the food chain a fish is, the more toxins it will have accumulated in its flesh. Every fish that say a tuna eats contributes to the overall toxicity level of that tuna.

11:27PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

I do not know how the author can say she loves fish if she eats them. It is beyond sick to say that going to an aquarium makes you hungry.

5:36PM PDT on Apr 5, 2010

Well, I do love animals, so very much and now that I am well informed, I am and will always be at least a vegitarian-will strive to be vegan. Factory farming has taken us by storm and this disgusting situation for the animals is cruel,heartless and out of control. ALSO-I don't know how anyone could eat their beloved pet. We don't NEED to eat animals for our survival,end of story.

4:53PM PDT on Apr 5, 2010

I know that we , humans, have many options to feed ourselves and our families. If I choose to go meat-less and to eat veggies, that's up to me. We need to respect others, in order for others to respect us, that's a fact. So do, what you think it's right and whatever makes sense to you. Be happy and have an amazing week.

4:52AM PDT on Apr 5, 2010

I don't eat fish or shellfish.

2:43AM PDT on Oct 24, 2008

And there´s just one more thing I´d like to say about the comment "If you choose to be veggie or vegan ... hope you are smart enough to get all you need ... ". I know you don´t mean to offend, I know that, BUT, in general, when people choose to become vegans, they do so with very good information, plus vegans are generally and on the whole, the healthiest people on the planet. AND, you may not mean to, but you make it sound as if by eating meat and/or fish you´re going to be healthy (with or without supplements), whereas the fact is, the VAST majority of cancers, heart and circulatory disease, diabetes and all the major killer diseases in the world are suffered by meat eaters. This is a FACT, also stated by the WHO (World Health Organisation).

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