1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Fish and Seafood Buying Guide

Help save ocean species from extinction by carefully choosing the fish you eat.

By

Hands eating crayfish
Melanie Acevedo/Photodisc/Getty Images

Oceans worldwide are experience dramatic declines in fish populations. As the number of people on Earth grows, so does the demand for seafood. But, if we continue to consume commercially caught fish without regard for how our choices affect global fisheries, we may actually eat several species into extinction in the foreseeable future.

Your Choice Matters

You don't have to completely give up healthy, delicious fish and seafood in order to help stop the crisis of overfishing. When you make wise choices with you shopping dollars, you will begin to change the market. Seafood suppliers, like any other food producers, respond to the demand of the consumer, so the more people who climb aboard the effort to change, the better.

Knowing Which Fish to Buy

It's impossible to look at fish fillets in the grocery store and know which are sustainably caught--unless you have a little background information. First, it's important to know that:

  • Some fish are harvested irresponsibly, using methods that deplete the fish species and harm others in the process.
  • Farmed fish are rarely a better option, contrary to their producers' ad campaigns. Farming fish is frequently harmful to the natural environment, introducing pollutants and creating fish stocks that tend to be weak and diseased.
  • The good news is that there are fish that you can buy at grocery stores restaurants with a clear conscience. According to Dr. John McCosker and the California Academy of Sciences, "Many of these are fast-growing species that are holding their own in the wild. Others are considered good choices because they are successfully farmed with minimal impact on surrounding ecosystems. There are also many delicious choices in this category that are still harvested from the wild, but in fisheries that are managed in a way that allows sufficient natural reproduction."

Best Fish and Seafood Choices

These are considered the safest options for both human health and the environment. However, I recommend investigating the country of origin and farming practices before consuming farmed species.

Anchovies

Bluefish, Atlantic

Catfish, farmed

Cod, Pacific

Crayfish

Dungeness Crab

Halibut, Alaskan

Mackerel

Mahi-mahi

Mussels, farmed

Oysters, farmed

Pollock, Pacific*

Prawns, California Spotted

Salmon, wild Alaskan and Californian

Sardines

Scallops, farmed

Shrimp, Atlantic Northern Pink

Squid (Calamari)

Striped Bass, farmed

Sturgeon, farmed

Tilapia , farmed

Trout, farmed

Tuna, Pacific Albacore (Tombo Tuna)

Tuna, Yellowfin (Ahi)

*It was formerly thought that the Pollock fishery competed with declining Steller sea lions, but new evidence shows that this is not true.

Worst Fish and Seafood Choices

Beluga Sturgeon (Beluga caviar)

Chilean Seabass (Patagonian Toothfish)

Clams, dredged

Crab, Alaskan King and Snow

Groupers

Herring*

Lingcod

Lobster, Northern (clawed, American, Maine) and Spiny

Monkfish

Orange Roughy (Slimehead)

Oysters, dredged

Rockfish (Pacific Red Snapper, Rock Cod)

Salmon, Atlantic

Scallops dredged

Sharks (shark cartilage, shark fin)

Shrimp and prawns, farmed

Shrimp and prawns, trawled

Snappers, tropical (huachinango)

Sole, Petrale, English, and Dover

Sturgeon, wild

Swordfish, Atlantic

Swordfish, Pacific

Tuna, Bluefin (Maguro)

*Declining herring numbers combined with heavy fishing pressure may be contributing to declining Steller sea lion populations.

Special Considerations

If you're pregnant or a mom with young children, it's important to make informed choices about seafood to reduce your family's exposure to mercury. Here are a few ways to shop smarter:

  • Get the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide, which provides at-a-glance info on which fish is okay to eat and which should be avoided. They guide also flags types of seafood that contain levels of mercury or PCBs that pose a health risk.
  • Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's iPhone app.
  • Download the Sierra Club's "Safe Sushi" app for iPhone and Android to see the mercury levels in the fish you eat.
  • Download the Blue Ocean Institute's iPhone app called FishPhone.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.