Earth Friendly: New seafood watch guides are out

July 21, 2011 at 2:21 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

Meridith Byrd

By Meridith Byrd

Last year, I wrote about the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which conducts meticulous research and ranks the best and worst seafood choices. The ratings take into account the population of the fish or shellfish, sustainability of the fishing practices and the potential for contaminants, such as mercury.

Seafood Watch produces a handful of regional consumer guides to seafood, which are updated twice a year. The latest updates came out just this month. Seafood is divided into three categories: Best Choices (green), Good Alternatives (yellow) and Avoid (red).

The biggest changes for the Southeast regional guide is that Gulf of Mexico red and black grouper moved from the red to the yellow category, so they are now considered good alternatives.

U.S. farmed catfish and crawfish remain among the most sustainable choices, along with dungeness and stone crab, Pacific halibut, farmed clams, mussels, scallops and oysters, wild Alaska salmon, farmed or wild striped bass and U.S. troll or pole-caught albacore, skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Spanish and king mackerel and wild striped bass also made the rank of "best" though they both have consumption advisories because of mercury or other contaminants.

The "Good Alternatives" and "Avoid" categories did not see much change. Good alternatives still include wild oysters, scallops and clams, king and snow crab, U.S./Maine lobster, U.S. mahi mahi, U.S. or Canadian shrimp and U.S. swordfish. Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, Atlantic grouper, Atlantic flatfish (halibut, flounder, sole), imported mahi mahi, farmed or Atlantic salmon, imported shrimp, Asian farmed tilapia, canned bluefin tuna and all sharks and skates should be avoided.

Seafood Watch has made available free apps for Android and iPhones. They are well-designed and easy to navigate, allowing the user to scroll through the categories, or search for a particular item. In addition, you can "like" Seafood Watch on Facebook and find recipes and valuable information on sustainable seafood.

When it comes to seafood, sustainability focuses on the manner in which the fish or shellfish are caught. Fishing with a pole causes no bycatch, which are fish or other animals caught unintentionally. Trawl nets and longlines typically result in large amounts of bycatch, so these are not considered sustainable fishing practices, and the fish caught using these methods are relegated to the red Avoid category.

Slow-growing, long-lived species, such as tuna, sharks and swordfish, are susceptible to mercury contamination. These fish are at the top of the food chain and retain the mercury from all the smaller fish they eat through a process called biomagnification. Mercury levels in some of these fish can be quite high, so to check on the status of your favorite fish visit the Environmental Defense Fund website at Pregnant women need to be particularly vigilant about choosing fish that are not at risk for high mercury content.

To download the apps or peruse the guide online, go to and click Seafood Watch.

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



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