My last Breakfast Television segment caught a "wave of attention." I asked the producer if I could do a segment on the health and sustainability of fish and seafood, a "Choose It and Lose It" on the fish to enjoy and those to avoid. We all agreed this would be an excellent segment. I thought I knew the facts, but I surprised myself with my research. Our fish supply and oceans are in rough shape.
I went to an excellent website called Monterey Bay Seafood Watch and learned the most current information on the status of our fish and seafood. This very detailed site is necessary for both the consumer and businesses. The information is online, in printed pocket guides and accessible via mobile.
The health of fish is undoubted. A great source of lean protein, omega fatty acids and low in fat. We have been told to drop the fatty animal meat and move over to more fish. But the problem today is that our fish supply is contaminated with mercury and PCB's and the oceans are being overfished. It's expected that by 2048 the majority of our fish supplies will be depleted.
The main issues include:
1. Overfishing is due to better technology of the fishing industry. Fish cannot reproduce at the rate we're catching them.
2. The "By catch" issue today affects our seas. When catching a specific fish at least 25 per cent caught are fish not being fished for. These are tossed back into the ocean but usually die.
3. Habitat damage occurs when nets are scouring the ocean floors and killing coral, algae and disrupting the sea bed floor.
4. All fish contain some amounts of mercury. The larger and fattier the fish, the more toxins
5. Mercury builds up in our bodies over the years and can take over a year to eliminate.
6. Those who should avoid the highest toxic fish include: pregnant and nursing women, children and those with a weakened immune system.
The following fish have been put into three groups. Those to avoid, those that are good to consume and those that can be eaten on an infrequent basis.
The following fish should only be eaten on an occasional basis since they are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
• 90 per cent of Atlantic Salmon is farmed in open pens and cages in coastal waters which have high levels of mercury and PCB's
• Farmed salmon have parasites and diseases that spreads to wild fish and contaminates the populations
• Colour is added to feed salmon to make them redder
• Salmon requires more fish to feed them than the amount it yields
• Farmed salmon has twice the fat of wild salmon -- fat is where toxins are
• Look for wild caught salmon "or 'coho"
Yellow Fin Tuna
• Yellow fin is known as Ahi or Maguro in sushi and available as canned light Tuna
• High levels of mercury
• They can reproduce quickly but are being overfished
• There's excess "by catch" resulting in killing threatened and endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.
• White canned has more mercury than light
• Imported contains high levels of mercury
• Results in "bycatch" of threatened or endangered sea turtles, sharks and seabirds in large numbers.
• The best choice is from Hawaii or North America
• Also known as "Toothfish" Chilean Seabass has high levels of mercury
• They are being depleted as they are overfished
• The best choice is from the Falkland Islands
• Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Atlantic have high levels of mercury
• Better alternatives are Black or Red Grouper
• U.S. Atlantic and Pacific are overfished
• Select Alaskan
• Also known Catfish. Lots of controversy on imported Bassa from Vietnam. Some say the rivers are clean but other sources say the use of antibiotics banned in the United States, are used.
• Best to select farmed U.S. Bassa
BEST CHOICES :
Seafood in this category is abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
• Albacore white canned tuna
• Haddock -- Also known as Scrod from the U.S. Atlantic is now in more abundance than previous years and is typically used for fish and chips.
• Bassa -- Look for those farmed in the U.S.
• Arctic Char -- They are farmed in ecologically responsible manner
• Clams -- The Littleneck variety is farmed
• Mussels -- They're farmed and cultured, disease is rare and the farming operation benefits marine habitat
• Lake whitefish -- They are healthy, abundant and well managed found in Lake Superior and Huron
• Tilapia -- From the U.S. is fast growing, and is produced in 100 nations. They are bred in indoor facilities or ponds covered by greenhouse roofs. They are isolated from wildlife, local water sources and predators, limiting the risk to the environment.
• Rainbow trout -- U.S. farmed
• Atlantic Stripped bass or Black Bass -- They are abundant
• Wild salmon -- Purchased fresh or canned
• Black Tiger Shrimp -- Look for those farmed in North America, not in Asia. They are farmed in shrimp and mangrove forests.
These items are 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. Enjoy them no more than twice weekly.
• Atlantic cod -- Are more abundant from the Artic and Iceland
• Surimi -- Is imitation crab from the Gulf of Mexico
• Lobster -- Gulf of Maine (avoid Southern New England)
• Sole -- Also known as Dover Sole and Flounder. These fish are wild caught in the Pacific.
• King Crab Legs -- Also known as Alaskan King Crab or Dungeness
• Blue Crab -- Have high levels of mercury and PCB's
• Bay Scallops and Sea -- Grow quickly and are resilient to fishing pressures
• Squid -- Can be found in the Gulf of California and U.S. Atlantic, avoid Thailand.
So that is the situation today, it may change next year. But in the meantime keep an eye on your intake of these incredible proteins.
Clams take the number 10 spot on the list of seafood most consumed by Americans, with 0.341 pounds per capita. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, most varieties of clams are considered "best choices" in terms of sustainability.
Pangasius, perhaps more commonly known as tra, swai and basa, is consumed at 0.405 pounds per capita, a 14 percent jump from 2009. Pangasius is a flaky, tender white fish that is typically both imported and farmed (see this fascinating article from The New York Times). It is also referred to as iridescent catfish. Seafood Watch score: Good Alternative.
Every year, 0.463 pounds of cod is consumed per capita. Cod is a complicated species; a whole book has been dedicated to how the fish changed the world. The many varieties of cod range from "best choice" recommendations (hook-and-line-caught Atlantic cod) to species better to avoid (wild-caught imported Pacific cod).
As participants in crab feasts are well aware, there isn't a lot of meat in an individual crab. Perhaps that's why the shellfish hasn't broken the Top 5, with 0.573 pounds per capita eaten per year. Like cod, there are some crabs deemed more sustainable than others. Best to avoid imported King crab, while Dungeness crab seems to be a safer bet.
We eat 0.8 pounds per capita of this bottom-dwelling, bizarre-looking fish. Seafood Watch calls catfish a "best choice." It's also the topic of the TV show "Hillbilly Handfishin'."
The Top 5 seafood all break the one-pound-per-capita consumption mark. Alaska pollack is consumed at a rate of 1.192 pounds per capita. Pollack is widely used in the fast food industry: Think McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. Seafood Watch score: Good Alternative.
In recent years, tilapia seems to have become many cooks' go-to white fish, thanks to its relatively cheap price and the ease of farming it. Americans ate a staggering 20 percent more tilapia in 2010 than they did in 2009. Seafood Watch score: Farmed tilapia from the U.S. and Latin America tend to be OK, but best to avoid that fish coming from Asia.
Nearly 2 pounds of salmon (1.999 to be exact) are eaten per person per year. That explains why there are so many concerns about overfishing and depletion of stocks. The Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests avoiding farmed salmon.
Americans eat 2.7 pounds per person per year of canned tuna. Many tuna species are best to avoid, according to Seafood Watch, but albacore canned tuna remains a good alternative.
Bubba in "Forrest Gump" had it right ("shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad ..."). There are a lot of ways to eat shrimp. That's why the average American consumes 4 pounds of it every year. Like other diverse seafood species, shrimp can be either a good or bad choice for your dinner table. Safer bets are spot prawns and rock shrimp.
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