Food

5 Fish You Should Eat More Of

Stories of overfishing and toxic contamination put consumers in a state of confusion and fear at the seafood counter. But there are healthy and sustainable options.

Our oceans are in a perilous state. Rampant abuse and rapacity has led us down a dangerous path; stories of overfishing, toxic contamination, and ocean acidification put consumers in a state of confusion and fear at the seafood counter. Luckily, all is not lost -- by making informed choices, we can enjoy healthy, delicious seafood while supporting fishermen that are doing their utmost to work in harmony with the planet. Here are five examples of sustainable, restorative seafood options that merit our support:

1. Sardines

First of all, I'm not talking about the unidentifiable, semi-fossilized fish paste that you find covered in oil or mustard sauce when you open up a sardine tin -- fresh sardines are a totally different animal. They are inexpensive, delectable indulgences that carry fabulous flavors, perform marvelously on a grill, and are used by top-level sushi chefs to make mouth-watering nigiri and sashimi dishes. Even better, these tiny delights are packed full of Omega-3 fatty acids while their short lifecycle keeps them relatively mercury-free. Unfortunately, we're using them in the worst possible way.

There's no excuse for the way we're treating our amazing sardine resource in this country. The vast majority of our sardines are sold to foreign bluefin tuna ranches, where they are used to fatten up juveniles that have been purloined from wild stocks. This is a problem on many levels: bluefin tuna are severely endangered, have little Omega-3 content, can be extremely high in mercury, and are exorbitantly expensive. We're using our sardines -- healthy, delicious fish that most Americans can afford -- to fuel a foreign industry that is harming the ocean in order to create a luxury good with dubious health benefits that is only available to the very wealthy.

Buying sardines from your local fish market helps to create a reward system for sardine fishermen. If the demand for these fish in the US marketplace continues to grow, our fishermen won't need to sell their entire catch (at a ridiculously low price, I might add) to a foreign bluefin ranch.

2. Wild Salmon

There are four reasons to eat wild Alaskan salmon. One -- it tastes fantastic. Two -- it's a high-Omega-3, low-mercury fish. Three -- it's a relatively sustainable industry that merits our support. And four -- the alternative, conventional farmed salmon, sucks.

Farmed salmon tends to be raised in the open-net pens situated in sheltered bays and coves. There are no controls to mitigate the flow of ocean water in and out of these pens. As such, there are tremendous problems with the transmission of diseases, parasites, genetic material, and waste from these pens to the ecosystems around them. Links between salmon farms and the degradation of wild salmon populations in places like Canada and Norway are well-established.

Also, the salmon farming industry has a real problem with antibiotic abuse. Chile, once the world's largest producer of farmed salmon, was using antibiotics at levels 300 to 400 times prescription levels. And what happens to these fish that are quite literally stuffed to the gills with antibiotics? Well... we eat them.

Wild Alaskan salmon provides a delicious alternative to all this nonsense. Thanks to progressive fishery management, we have access to a domestic product that is comparatively sustainable and healthy. To make matters even better, recent marketing efforts for previously underappreciated species like keta (chum) and sockeye have helped to make wild Alaskan salmon available at price points that are competitive with farmed products.

4. Dungeness Crab

For shellfish lovers, it is difficult to find a better option than Dungeness crab. These fisheries are extremely well-managed and have been so for decades. The crabs are caught in non-lethal traps which keep bycatch at negligible levels and allow female and juvenile crabs to be returned unharmed to the seabed. This process, whereby only mature males are taken, helps to keep Dungeness crab populations resilient and robust. Additionally, the number of crabs that can be landed during a given season is carefully measured and kept to levels that will keep populations thriving.

With such precise targeting on top of strong science-based quotas, our Dungeness crab fisheries provide excellent examples of progressive resource management. And the kicker? Dungeness crab is among the best-tasting shellfish in the world. Grab a cracker and go to town.

4. Farmed Mussels

I personally believe that the often-quoted adage "farmed fish is bad" is a myth. Fish farming is a tool, and as with any tool, it can be applied in both constructive and destructive ways. While many types of aquaculture are detrimental to the health of our oceans -- bluefin ranches and conventional shrimp farms come immediately to mind -- other types can be relatively benign, and may even have positive effects on their local ecosystems. One of the best examples of this latter type of aquaculture is mussel farming.

Farmed mussels are raised on ropes or in bags and cages that have no contact with the seabed, so there is no impact to the benthos (seafloor ecosystem) when they are harvested. Also, as filter feeders, mussels don't require any feed; they simply strain nutrients from the waters around them. Some have even made the assertion that this de-nutrification process actually helps to restore ocean health by cleaning the water to a degree. I think the jury's still out on this claim, but there's no doubt that mussel farming is a much better way to cultivate ocean protein than many other aquaculture systems.

5. Pole-caught Skipjack Tuna

Canned tuna is a hugely popular seafood item, and also a tremendous problem. The species that's most often used for this purpose is a small, quickly growing tuna species called skipjack. Due to its physiology and life history, skipjack has the potential to be a strong sustainable seafood option; unfortunately, the tuna industry that feed our appetite for ersatz, steam-cooked tuna meat is wreaking havoc on our oceans. Skipjack boats generally fish with purse seine nets and fish aggregating devices (free-floating rafts that attract many different types of fish), also known as FADs. The use of FADs ensures that these boats take far more creatures than just mature skipjack -- billfish, sharks, juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas, and even turtles are attracted by the FADs and subsequently ensnared by the seine nets. Our appetite for cheap tuna is wiping out any number of other species, merely because they happen to by in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thankfully, a new industry is beginning to develop -- skipjack tuna caught on a pole-and-line. It's the same fish, but the use of a pole rather than a FAD and purse seine allows fishermen to be much more precise about what they do and do not catch. Next time you're shopping for canned tuna, look for the words "pole caught" on the can to support companies that are trying to do right by our oceans.

Casson Trenor is Senior Markets Campaigner with Greenpeace USA, where he spearheads the organization's efforts to hold restaurants and supermarkets accountable for their seafood sustainability practices and to help educate the public about the global fisheries crisis. He is the author of Sustainable Sushi.