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School of Fish

June 15, 2009

I want to try and stay positive.  It is all fine and good for me to tell you to avoid farmed salmon.  But if I’m going to suggest you not do something, it’s only fair for me to provide a better alternative.

In the case of salmon, wild Alaskan salmon, the best alternative has its drawbacks.  It’s not available all year long and it’s pretty darn expensive.

So, if you are trying to be an ethical eater and you want fish, where can you turn?  The answer is terribly complicated.  But I will try and simplify it a bit using two great resources available to you, Seafood Watch and the EDF Seafood Selector.

Still, determining the best fish to eat is a daunting task because there are so many factors to take into consideration.

Name of the fish.
You would never imagine that one fish could have so many names.  Well, the EDF recommends Atlantic mackerel.  SW recommends king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, both of which can be found in the Atlantic.  But it turns out these are three separate fish: Scomberomorus maculates, Scomberomorus cavalla, and Scomber scombrus.  Scomber scombrus or Atlantic mackerel would be the one to choose if you were concerned about mercury.  But do you think your local fishmonger is versed in the Latin names of the fish?

Country of origin.
Luckily this is getting easier to find out.  Even our local Price Chopper fish departments list the country of origin for the fish they sell.  But some countries do well by some fish and not others.  So there is no easy shorthand for using this criterion.  However it is essential to have to make an educated decision.

Wild versus farmed.
Like country of origin, this is important so that one can form the complete picture, but whether wild or farmed is more desirable depends on the specific type of fish and the methods used in its processing and capture.  Some farmed fish have fewer pollutants, but some have more.  And the same goes for their wild cousins.

Fishing practices.
If the fish is wild, it needs to be collected from the sea.  This can be done with lines or with nets.  The nets can be good or bad depending on the size of their mesh, and the impact of their bycatch (the unwanted fish who get ensnared by the net).  Many line methods are reported to be environmentally responsible, but the process of longlining can have the unintended consequence of killing endangered sea turtles.

Farm type.
Not all farms are created equal.  The worst seem to be the open net cages that are used for Atlantic salmon.  The best are apparently inland ponds that use recirculating water systems that are used for the production of catfish.

Are you still here?

The good thing about having a food industry is that most producers of a certain type of fish from a certain country using a certain type of method generally are similar to one another.

So, with that said, here is my anti-dirty dozen list of seafood: fish that you can eat with a clean conscience and without fear.  Whether you find them delicious or not is another matter:

1)      Arctic char – Farmed with recirculating systems
(aka alpine char, iwana)
2)     Barramundi – U.S. farmed
(aka silver barramundi, giant perch, palmer perch, barra)
3)     Catfish – U.S. farmed
(aka channel catfish)
4)     Clams – Wild caught softshell/steamers
(aka longneck, fryer or farmed steamers, littlenecks and cockles)
5)     Crayfish – U.S. farmed
(aka crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs)
6)     Mussels – Farmed worldwide
(aka blue mussels, black mussels, green mussels, murugai)
7)     Oysters – Farmed worldwide
(aka American oyster, blue points oyster, common oyster, kaki)
8)     Sardines – U.S. Pacific
(aka pilchard, iwashi)
9)     Bay scallops – Japan farmed
(aka hotate)
10)    Pink shrimp – Oregon
(aka ocean shrimp, salad shrimp, cocktail shrimp)
11)     Longfin squid – U.S. Atlantic trawl-caught
(aka ocean shrimp, salad shrimp, cocktail shrimp)
12)     Tilapia – U.S. farmed
(aka izumidai)

If it weren’t patently obvious, this is a highly fussy list that has been ridiculously vetted.  Do not live in fear.  Try all kinds of tasty delicious treats from the sea.  Just make sure to have a varied diet and eat in moderation.  And save some for me.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    June 19, 2009 11:03 am

    This is great info that I don’t even think a lot of people are aware of and/or take into consideration.

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