Earth Friendly: Choose safe, sustainable seafood

May 19, 2010 at 12:19 a.m.

By Meridith Byrd

Those of us who live on the Gulf Coast like our seafood, and we are fortunate to have plenty of places to get it.

But as with every food, it's important to know the quality and source.

Have you ever wondered which species are most likely to contain heavy metals, such as mercury, or whether the fish you are eating is a species known to be overfished?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif., produces a handy guide to which species are harvested sustainably and unlikely to contain contaminants.

It all began in 1997, when the aquarium hosted an exhibit called Fishing for Solutions and subsequently reviewed its internal seafood purchasing, complete with a list of guidelines.

The list was requested so often by visitors, that by 1999 the aquarium had created its Seafood Watch Pocket Guide. Today, there are six regional guides, a national guide and a sushi guide, all updated twice a year and all available at Mobile versions are available through the site for cell phones and Apple even has a free app for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

All the guides have divided seafood into three categories: Best Choices (green), Good Alternatives (yellow) and Avoid (red). Thorough research has to be done to determine which category is most suitable for a type of fish or shellfish.

Sustainability is a big factor; it is well-known that our oceans are being heavily overfished, so things like fishing practices and gear, how old the fish must be in order to reproduce, short and long-term abundance trends and range are all evaluated.

Consumers are strongly urged to choose seafood from the Best Choices category, which includes those species determined by Seafood Watch to be sustainable. Seafood designated as Good Alternatives are better choices than those in the Avoid category; however, this category does not meet all the requirements to be designated as sustainable and concerns remain about the fishing practices used. Seafood given the Avoid status should be passed up by consumers, since these stocks are at particular risk for being depleted.

Human health concerns remain, even with some fish and shellfish given green or yellow status due to possible contamination by mercury or other substances.

These are designated on the guides with an asterisk; consumers are encouraged to visit the Environmental Defense Fund website to learn more at

So on to the nitty gritty: What are the best, good and worst choices for sustainable seafood? Among the best choices are catfish and crawfish farmed in the U.S., Dungeness and stone crab, Pacific halibut, farmed shellfish, such as clams, mussels and oysters, U.S. king and Spanish mackerel, wild Alaska salmon, farmed or wild striped bass and albacore tuna caught in the U.S. by troll or pole.

Good alternatives include wild oysters, scallops and clams, blue, king and snow crab, American lobster, Pacific cod, U.S. mahi mahi, U.S. or Canadian shrimp and U.S. swordfish. Avoid Chilean sea bass (also called Patagonian toothfish), orange roughy, grouper, Atlantic flatfish (halibut, flounder, sole), imported mahi mahi, farmed or Atlantic salmon, imported shrimp, Asian farmed tilapia, canned bluefin and tongol tuna and all sharks and skates.

Some practices, such as longline fishing, have unintended consequences, such as drowning sea turtles or seabirds attracted to the baited hooks. Know which choices are best and which to avoid. Print out the guide, keep it in your wallet and refer to it when buying seafood at the market or when dining out.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites read ers to contact her at



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