People have been eating fish for their protein and nutrition for thousands of years. However, some marine creatures can contain pesticides and other contaminants, negatively affecting the human body. The demand for fish has also had a significant impact on ecosystems everywhere. Overfishing and fish farming have disrupted the food chain and depleted fish populations.
To make better decisions regarding fish intake, you must first examine where the fish comes from and which seafood brands you can trust. A clear understanding of these things will help you choose the healthiest, eco-friendly fish on the market.
1. Understand the Source
Knowing where your fish comes from is the first step in determining whether it is healthy and eco-friendly. However, the origins of the fish on your table are often challenging to trace. One study found 26 to 87% of the time, stores were selling cheaper fish under pricier names. For example, the labels on white cod read Atlantic cod, and an overwhelming majority of white tuna was escolar, which can cause severe digestive issues for some people.
Since this information isn’t readily available to consumers, some companies have implemented traceability systems to help ensure the integrity of their seafood. Choose to buy from companies who have a clean track record and can provide accurate information concerning where, when and how your fish got caught.
2. Buy Local
Most seafood has a long journey from sea to plate, making it difficult to trace. If you want to be confident in where your seafood comes from, buy local. Local fish is more environmentally-friendly, as shipping and transportation are out of the equation. It also helps support your local fishermen and grows your community’s economy.
If you don’t live by the ocean and can’t buy directly from fishermen or seafood markets, purchase your seafood from a company that locally sources it. Do your research and choose a company that works as the middleman and works directly with local fishermen. Doing so will help you make confident, sustainable purchasing decisions.
3. Choose Nutrient-Dense Fish
Humans don’t consume fish only because they taste good. Fish also contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B12 and is a great source of low-fat, high-quality protein. Fish is also rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc and other minerals our bodies need to stay healthy. But, not all fish are the same.
Wild-caught fish are naturally more nutrient-dense than their farm-raised counterparts because they feed on plants and algae. Farm-raised fish, however, get a synthetic form of nutrients they should be receiving from plants. They also have higher levels of toxic chemicals like dieldrin, DDT and other carcinogens due to the use of pesticides. Farmed salmon are notorious for pollutants because they get fed contaminated fish pellets.
4. Research Fishing Methods
To create a more sustainable seafood system, environmentalists suggest only eating fish whose harvesting doesn’t upset ocean ecosystems. Unsound catching methods play a role in this disruption. Ocean trawlers, for example, run lines along the bottom of the ocean, destroying coral reefs as they scrape the ocean floor in search of fish. Huge nets and bottom trawlers also catch unwanted fish which then get thrown back into the ocean — usually dead or dying.
Farming may seem like the best solution, but this method negatively affects the environment as well. Some fish farms create ocean monocultures to keep the fish in a kind of ocean fishbowl surrounded by netting. Dumping chemicals, food pellets and other pollutants into these farms contaminates the surrounding water and can adversely affect ocean ecosystems.
5. Know Which Species Are at Risk
Environmental groups and ocean conservationists also recommend only eating fish that aren’t drastically subject to overfishing. For instance, we are catching and eating specific types of fish, like the Chilean sea bass, faster than they can replenish their populations. Other species, like anchovies and mackerel, get overfished to feed larger farm-raised fish like salmon, depleting the small wild population.
As a consumer, you must take the initiative to stay informed and up to date on which species are in danger of overfishing and depleted populations. Doing so will help you make more earth-conscious decisions concerning which fish to serve at your table. A general rule of thumb is to stay away from severely depleted predator fish like swordfish, tuna and salmon.
6. Look for Seals of Approval
As previously mentioned, labels can be misleading, but there are ways to tell if your fish is sustainable and healthy. Look for seals of approval assuring a fish’s quality and sustainability. For example, the Fishwise label tells consumers the variety of fish, where it came from and how sustainable it is using a green, yellow or red sticker.
These kinds of labels can also give you a better idea of how much is safe to consume based on toxicity levels and indicate if the fish got caught in an eco-friendly way. As seafood companies begin to place these labels on their products, they will become more prevalent, giving consumers a better idea of what they are eating — and how their choices affect the planet.