Simplistic as it may seem, this is a question that has vexed more than its fair share of askers. Depending on your dietary restrictions, personal taste and sense of the morality tied to the consumption of certain foods, it can get confusing what is chic to eat and what is never hip to gobble.
For those who are most concerned with consuming seafood produced through programs given the green light of sustainability, one organization that has been informative is Seafood Watch.
Seafood Watch (which is actually a program through the esteemed Monterey Bay Aquarium) is an excellent resource for those seeking to gain a better understanding of the issues affecting ocean life, and more specifically, issues relating to sustainability and harvesting food from the sea. The program’s web page notes that it has been actively “making a difference since 1999.”
One important way in which Seafood Watch encourages responsible stewardship is by introducing to readers the major issues affecting the oceans, harvesting and sustainability. Interested readers can educate themselves by visiting the Issues page and reading up on what some experts feel have led to current issues, and how to address such issues in an environmentally responsible manner. (The listed issues include Aquaculture, Wild Seafood, Seafood Report and Fishing Methods.)
Seafood Watch offers a handy Seafood Recommendations search tool, which offers expert opinions on which seafood is considered a “best choice” (meaning it is “abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways”), a “good alternative” (meaning it is “an option, but there are concerns with how they’re caught or farmed – or with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts”), seafood to “avoid” (meaning consumers should “[t]ake a pass on these items for now. They are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment”) and seafood that goes on “The Super Green List,” which lists “wild and farmed seafood that’s healthy for people and the oceans.”
The Super Green List items must satisfy three criteria: first, they must already be selected as “best choice” foods. Next, they must also contain “the daily minimum of omega-3s “(at least 250 milligrams per day [mg/d])” and must also contain “Low levels of contaminants (below 216 parts per billion [ppb] mercury and 11 ppb PCBs).” This list includes as its big winners wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Pacific sardines, freshwater Coho Salmon and Rainbow Trout.
Seafood Watch offers region-specific guides as to what seafood is the best and most sustainable choice per region. (And there are also Mobile Seafood Guides.) For example, the West Coast Guide classifies the following U.S.-seafood as being among the “best choice” selections: tilapia, White Seabass, US bottom longline cod, Pacific halibut, Alaska wild salmon, Arctic Char and U.S. farmed trout. “Good alternatives” include California halibut, squid, wild clams and Alaskan Pollock. West Coast seafood to “avoid” include imported shrimp, Pacific blue and striped marlin, grenadier, Chilean Seabass/toothfish, imported King Crab and imported swordfish.
The Southwest Guide recommends the following as “best choice” seafood: farmed Arctic Char, Alaskan wild salmon, U.S. farmed Rainbow Trout, farmed mussels, Pacific halibut and U.S. farmed tilapia. In the Southwest, Seafood Watch recommends avoiding some of the following: Orange Roughy, Brazilian spiny lobster, Asia farmed tilapia, monkfish and imported King Crab, among others.
Seafood Watch offers many useful recommendations for safe seafood consumption, and also has a large variety of other (national and international) resources to consult to learn more about issues affecting the ocean and sustainability, and how consumers can make an impact when they educate themselves on the environmental issues. These resources include links to additional sources of information on fisheries management, seafood and human health, and resources specifically targeting restaurants and retailers, and resources for educators.
Other useful sources include the Marine Stewardship Council, which provides a special certification to certain seafood designated as fulfilling certain sustainability criteria. Interested readers can visit the MSC to find MSC “certified sustainable seafood” and identify fisheries designated as participants. The Natural Resources Defense Council also offers a consumer guide to mercury levels in fish, for those interested in identifying the overlap between health and sustainability.
Knowledge is power, and Seafood Watch is one powerful way to further one’s understanding of current “green” stands on marine life.