I recently saw the article you shared on Facebook about tilapia and how pretty much all of it is farm raised and toxic. What fish CAN I eat that isn’t farm raised or full of harmful toxins? Many thanks. ~Kelly, FL
I must admit, for someone who used to eat A LOT of fish, I have really scaled back (no pun intended). While that is a personal choice, we can all still benefit from making well informed decisions. I think many of us have found that in order to have a clean diet, homework is involved (I know, I thought I was done with all that too!). We just can’t trust labels, companies, grocery stores, and commercials to give us the best advice. I doubt the person behind the counter at the seafood department is going to say NO! DON’T BUY THAT! nor will there be caution tape around the tilapia advising buyers to beware.
Below is a list by the Monterey Bay Aquarium of fish that are deemed to be the best choices, good alternatives, and the ones to avoid entirely. Please click on the image to make it bigger, or click here to download a guide for your area. Since I am in California, that is the one I used. This is one of the very best ways to reference what is safe to eat and what is not.
Some fishy terms to consider:
Farmed This is a seriously hot topic. Today, about half of all seafood is farm raised. I have read so much about farmed fish, well, because it interests me and I want to make the most educated decision possible. Also referred to as ‘aquaculture’, it looks like not all fish farming is created equal. I was convinced all of it was bad, but that does not seem to be the case. The way in which the fish are farmed varies, so the effects on the fish and the environment are different too. The types of farming methods are: open net pens or cages (mostly tuna and salmon), ponds (shrimp, catfish, tilapia), raceways (rainbow trout), recirculating systems (nearly any finfish like striped bass and salmon), and shellfish cultures (oysters, mussels, clams).
Verdict: Farming is unnatural and harder on the environment. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the quality of the fish, such as farmed salmon, can retain 16 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in their wild-caught counterparts.
Open net pens or cages are pretty dirty (disease and parasites are easily spread). Ponds destroy A LOT of natural coastal habitat (I’m talking 3.7 million acres) which are super important for all of us, birds, and fish. Raceways are clean-ish if they’re properly treated. If not, it contaminates waterways. Recirculating systems address environmental concerns and are a good, but expensive, farming option. Shellfish culture is a good option given enough space, as high densities can accumulate waste. Find a printable guide here.
Wild Caught Ultimately wild caught is just as it describes. It is taken from the wild rather than bred in captivity. Unfortunately, some labels are misleading making the fish sound like they were swimming around freely in the ocean. Example: Atlantic salmon. If salmon is next to the word Atlantic, it is farmed.
Mercury and PCBs Mercury is a toxic metal that can affect brain function and development. PCBs are industrial chemicals that make their way into our oceans and contaminate fish. Usually the larger the fish (such as shark and swordfish–see chart below) end up with the most toxins by eating a lot of the smaller species.
Radiation (Fukushima Daiichi) I have been following this since the devastation in 2011. All the sources I trust, including the FDA (which is probably about 4th on my ‘reliable’ list) state that there is no true evidence the power plant disaster has raised radiation levels in fish any more than any other fish or food for that matter would contain naturally (from the world we live in today). Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist and marine chemist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was so concerned himself he started a website Our Radioactive Ocean, which uses crowd funding to constantly and continually test levels to ensure safe levels. It is predicted in a couple years there’s a chance those levels could rise to unsafe levels, but for now they remain normal. I’ve even seen comparisons stating that we’re exposed to more radiation on a flight from New York to LA than anything we could ever eat.
Organic Currently, there is no U.S. government-approved organic seafood. These products are often labeled as “organic” based on criteria set by a private certification company, or in accord with European standards. These are not based on the same criteria as required in the United States.
Genetically Modified (GMO) According to the Center for Food Safety, there are at least 35 species of fish are currently being genetically engineered around the world, including trout, catfish, tilapia, striped bass, flounder, and many species of salmon.
Sustainable Sustainable seafood is fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on ocean health (and other habitats and ecosystems), and ensure the availability of seafood for future generations.
So why does any of this matter?! It’s not only a choice for your own health and the health of your family, but the choices we make as consumers drive the marketplace. We have purchasing power and what we buy translates into what we ultimately support. If everyone stopped buying the fish on the ‘avoid’ list, there’s a good chance the supply would be minimal or non-existent.
Do you eat fish? Do you eat as much as you used to? What are your thoughts?