Seafood Mercury levels and Sustainable Seafood Guide

sushi sashimi raw fish

Fresh seafood and Sushi are available all over the US. We all want to do the right thing when it comes to eating seafood. Environmentally conscious folks do not want to support overfishing or destructive seafood harvesting.

It is ironic that over 2500 sushi restaurants in the United States serve Hamachi even though it doesn’t exist in the Western Hemisphere.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a new sustainable seafood guide. Notable items to avoid are:

  • Ebi/Shrimp (Imported)
  • Unagi/Eel
  • Hamachi/Yellowtail (Australia, Japan farmed)
  • Atlantic cod
  • Ahi tuna
  • Blue fin tuna
  • Chilean Sea bass
  • Dayboat scallops
  • Monkfish And Monkfish Liver
  • Octopus
  • Salmon (most farmed, including Atlantic)
  • Swordfish

Sustainable fish are those that are either fish or farmed using methods that encourage stocks to remain healthy and replenished over time.

Acceptable fish include:

  • Abalone (farmed)
  • Albacore Tuna (Pacific Ocean, troll caught)
  • Arctic char (farmed in recirculating systems)
  • Atlantic and Spanish mackerel
  • Alaskan halibut
  • Alaskan troll caught salmon
  • Alaskan true cod
  • California anchovies
  • California squid
  • California sardines
  • Dungeness crab
  • Farmed shellfish
  • Geo duck clam
  • Mackerel (rod and reel only)
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Sablefish (black cod)
  • Sea Urchin (British Columbia)
  • Shrimp (US farmed)

Eating Small Fish

A representative of the Environmental Defense Fund recommended that consumers eat for small fish, and a wider variety of them, including mackerel, sardines, and oysters. Mixing it up reduces the chance of getting too much of a single contaminant. Variety of smaller fish lessens the impact that larger fish would have. The population of unagi or freshwater eel has declined 90% over the last 20 years.

Harvesting fish responsibly is difficult to do, the best methods are rod and reel or Scottish seine. Other methods such as bottom trawler or long line can bring up huge amounts of by catch in re-devastation to the seafloor as they move. Fish farms that pack fish into cages, with nets in natural bodies of water, can destroy delicate habitats, generate waste and cause harmful nitrogen levels.

A recent San Francisco magazine article describes the best methods of catching seafood and also found that many restaurants are not as sustainable as they think they are.

Printable Monterey Bay Aquarium Pocket Seafood GuideiPhone App

Clean Fish is an organization dedicated to sustainable seafood harvesting and has additional information on sustainable seafood.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an eco-label that shows the company supports sustainable fisheries biodiversity. Look for it on responsible seafood.

Mercury in Fish

Be careful with eating too much fish especially if you are pregnant. Understand the possible mercury levels in fish, especially for high mercury fish – swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tile fish. Also limit consumption of canned white, albacore tuna. Long-term mercury exposure can impair vision, hearing, damage motor skills, and balance. A recent study of store-bought fish and restaurant sushi found some fairly high levels of mercury.

Country of Origin

This is another helpful label from the USDA. It indicates where the seafood came from and whether it was farm raised or caught in the wild. Unfortunately not all fish markets and restaurants use this label.

Mislabeled Fish

There have been several articles in magazines and newspapers regarding mislabeled seafood that was purchased from supermarkets and restaurants. Several investigations utilized outside labs to DNA test purchased fish to verify its genetic makeup.

A recent Consumer Reports December 2011 article found that only 4 out of 14 types of fish were always identified correctly. 18% of samples did not match the labels or menu entry.

Why does this happen?

  • Mistakes on boats or processing plants
  • Intentionally mislabeling for profit
  • Inexperienced inspectors
  • Minimal inspections by authorities

When purchasing fresh fish, try to examine the list above and only purchase in season, sustainably-harvested seafood. Make sure the fish does not smell fishy and that there’s no discoloration.

Also be sure to avoid the endangered Blue fin tuna.

Keeping Fish and other Seafood Local and Fresh

LB Steak, Santana Row, San Jose, fish

Institute for Fisheries Resources has web pages that list California Fishermen who sell directly to the public as well as restaurants that buy straight off the dock. Keep your seafood local and it’ll be fresher too. Have some fun seeing local seafood being sold off the boat. Eliminate the middle man and save money.

Which is Better? Farm Raised Salmon or Wild Salmon

A question arose in the supermarket the other day, which is better, Farm Raised Salmon or Wild Salmon? Clearing salmon is good for you as it contains Omega-3 (n-3 polyunsaturated) fatty acids, but have heard news reports about problems with PCBs in fish.

Farm raised salmon has been shown to have elevated levels of PCBs in a 2003 study the independent Environmental Working Group.

The study found that PCB contamination was 16 times higher in farm raised salmon than wild salmon. In beef, it was 4 times higher. The study was based on store bought fish from Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Portland. Another study of 700 salmon found that farm raised salmon had 7 times the PCB level as compared to wild salmon.

Their recommendations are:

1) To reduce your exposure to PCBs, trim fat from fish before cooking.

2) Choose broiling, baking, or grilling over frying, as these cooking methods allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the fish.

3) When possible, choose wild and canned Alaskan salmon instead of farmed, and eat farmed salmon no more than once a month.

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