April 9th, 2012

How to Buy Safe Seafood

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Fish market sustainable seafood

Fish generally ends up on our dinner table once or twice a week. Salmon is a family favorite with other types of fish being hit or miss. About a year ago I was part of a fish CSA. I loved the concept of buying fresh fish from local fishermen, but what I learned quickly was that I had a lot to do before the fish was ready to eat. The fish were delivered whole-with everything intact. That meant I had to filet it and remove all the parts that weren’t edible. For those of you who don’t know me well, I’m a bit squeamish. I don’t do well with blood, gore and guts. I tried to be a trooper and gave fileting the fish my best shot. It didn’t end well and I turned to my husband, kind friends and neighbors who took over the fileting process. As a result, my fileting days were short lived. So now I frequent the market in search of safe and sustainable fish.

Walking up to the fish counter at the grocery store or at a farmers’ market can be a bit overwhelming. The signs placed in front of each type of fish are confusing unless you know what each term means.

Here’s a general guide to buying safe and sustainable seafood:

Buy wild when possible (in most cases)

Farm-raised fish are generally placed in crowded cages and given antibiotics and exposed to pesticides. Their living environment is less than desirable. Wild fish are out in the wild-living and swimming as they were meant to be. Wild fish aren’t exposed to the same toxins as their farm-raised cousins.

Smaller is better

Larger fish generally have a higher chance of being contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals. The reason for this is bigger fish tend to live longer and have more time to accumulate these toxins. Smaller fish  have a shorter life expectancy and are less likely to be polluted by heavy metals. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age need to be careful of mercury levels in all fish, whether wild or farm-raised.

Buy local

Do you want to eat fish that traveled for days to reach your table? Think about all the fuel used for transport. Try to buy fish from a local source.

Avoid added coloring

Farm-raised salmon generally has artificial color added to give it that nice pink color. When salmon are raised in a farm-raised environment they are  fed “fish meal”, made up of ground fish parts, and as a result, the fish color is a shade of gray rather than pink. Coloring is added because consumers expect their salmon to look pink.

Ask questions

You have the right to know where your fish is coming from. Ask the person behind the counter or at the farmer’s market questions about added coloring, chemicals and anything else you might want to know before purchasing the fish.

More fish info

  • Print out a pocket guide for buying seafood from Monterey Sea Aquarium Seafood Watch.
  • Download FishFone from Blue Ocean Institute. Text them the name of the fish in question and they’ll text you back with their assessment and better alternatives to fish with significant environmental concerns.
  • Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector. Their guide has fish broken down into eco-best, eco-ok and eco-worst fish.
  • The Food & Water Watch site is filled with information about fish.

Take action

Say no to GE salmon HERE.

Where do you buy your fish?

20 Responses to “How to Buy Safe Seafood”

  1. Ewwww! filleting your own fish! I give you sooo much credit for trying it.
    I generally buy fish from the grocery store since that is the only real option here – except during Famers Market season. We have a fish monger that comes straight from Boston every Tuesday! I can’t believe the difference in taste when you get a really fresh fish! OMG! So worth the extra money.

  2. I’m laughing thinking of you (or me)trying to fillet a fish! Do you every buy fish at Trader Joe’s? I’ve heard they are moving toward sustainable but not 100% there yet.

  3. I really liked this post! I am kind of intimidated sometimes when buying seafood. Thanks!

  4. I’ve noticed that the big supermarkets in my area are doing a better job of labelling the fish at the fish counter to make it easier to separate the wild from the farmed, and the local from the non-local. It’s a good start. I buy my fish from an eco-butcher (which is more of a general grocery store, it just happens to have a huge butcher counter that takes up a third of the store’s space).

  5. I use to eat fish all the time, and when I did I bought Alaskan fish from a local fishermen. Apparently, they can only fish a certain time of the year to keep the salmon population up. Salmon are slowly creeping up on the endangered “fish” list. This is who I bought from http://wildforsalmon.com, I felt comfortable with these guys. Seemed like they have it right. All great tips!

  6. I like your comment about asking questions. I, like Alicia, get intimidated sometimes and I’m not smart about asking for details on what I am purchasing and really, if they’re are selling it, they should be experts on it. Bottom line. Thanks for the tips.

  7. Hi Kristina,

    Yep-it was pretty disgusting, but I tried! I agree, there’s nothing like the taste of fresh fish. You’re lucky to have the option once a week during your local farmers market!

  8. I was laughing too Micaela! I was horrible at it. I have bought fish at TJ’s, but I don’t love it. It is frozen and usually pretty dry after cooking. Maybe it’s my cooking!

  9. Hi Andrea, I’ve noticed an improvement in labeling too at the market. You are so lucky to have an eco-butcher close by! I’ve never heard that term. Are there good selections? Do they label their fish?

  10. Hi Alicia,

    Buying seafood can be very overwhelming! The signs seem to contain so much information it’s hard to know what to do. People tend to spend a lot of time at the fish counter trying to figure it all out!

  11. This is a great write up. I only eat the fresh of the fresh. I am lucky to have a Dad who is a fishermen so my fish comes straight from the ocean but when I am traveling I am going to be SUPER careful not to eat some of the junk they carry in the grocery stores.

  12. I try to eat my fish as fresh as possible, but I never tried to filet one myself. I have to give it a try soon. Nice post.

  13. Hi Jonathan, let me know if you try filleting a fish. It’s quite the experience! I was terrible at it and it took me hours.

  14. Hi Meg, Wow a dad who’s a fisherman! That’s fantastic. Fresh fish. I think once you taste fresh fish it’s hard to eat the previously frozen stuff they sell in the market.

  15. Hi Lori! you are right about the frozen stuff, which is sold in the markets almost.

  16. Most fish is previously frozen- both wild and farm raised.

  17. […] generally ends up on our dinner table once or twice a week. Salmon is a family favorite with other types of fish being hit or miss. Many types of fish, including salmon, contain omega-3 […]

  18. […] omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, may help calm our mood. Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that eating 12 to 15 […]

  19. […] not a fan of anything canned because of the BPA concern. Also tuna can contain mercury. But three ounces of light tuna in water has 154 IUs of Vitamin D, which is about 1/3 of the daily […]

  20. […] Defense Fund, have put nearly all farmed salmon on their “red” or “avoid” list. Farm-raised fish are generally placed in crowded cages and given antibiotics and exposed to pesticides. Their living […]

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

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