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Sustainable, Low Mercury Seafood

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When it comes to mixed messages in the media regarding a “healthy food”, seafood might be at the top of the list. Has it ever been exceedingly difficult for you to decide whether or not you’d like to make seafood a part of your general diet? It has been for me. It certainly tastes great to me, but the price tag and the mixed messages become frustrating to listen to. In order to learn more about the impacts that different seafood has on our environment and on our health, I have turned to my favorite non-biased source of information The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This organization seeks out truthful nutrition advice with out the influence of advertisers to skew their findings. I highly recommend subscribing to their news letter Nutrition Action Healthletter for quality year-round nutrition information. Their most recent health letter gives the reader a fantastic guide to seafood with all the potential risks that it poses to our health, and also to our environment.

One question brought up in this article is whether or not farm raised fish are in fact POOR choices for seafood (both environmentally and for our health). The interviewee (Barton Seaver, Harvard School of Public Health) went on to explain how the category of “farm raised” actually has a range of quality standards from environmentally damaging all the way to environmentally restorative. The example is given of farm raised mussles, clams, and oysters. They can all as farmed groups remove excess nutrients like nitrogen in sea waters that come from agricultural runoff. The excess nitrogen otherwise is damaging to the marine life. Planting shellfish farms strategically in places with this type of pollution will benefit the water quality and will result in healthier seafood. As far as salmon goes, it turns out that it IS in fact possible to farm salmon in a sustainable and healthy  way. However, like with most healthy and sustainable practices… it is not cheap. A high quality salmon farmer will take the time to research every thing a salmon needs to be thriving in a healthy environment and provide it to the fish farm despite high costs. Everything from the seaweed and sea cucumbers needed, to the other species that should be present in the pen to eat potential problem parasites. Selective breeding is also important in a salmon farm which can ensure that you have a strong diseases resistant population to start with. This is VERY interesting since for a long time farmed fish have been SO villafied. It does get tricky though when you are trying to decide whether or not the fish farm that fish came from was in fact sustainable. One hint that it might not have been is if it comes at a bargain price. A bargain price means an economic fish farm which essentially translates to an un-diversified, over crowded fish farm with fish potentially treated with antibiotics since fish in that environment are constantly getting sick. Another strategy is just to have a conversation with your fish market personnel. If they don’t know much about the farm that their fish came from, it might not be a great one. If they have specific information on the quality standards of their fish farm, that might be better. Generally speaking, if a fish market is doing their part to provide quality fish to consumers, they will be quite proud of it and will want to tell you all about it.

As far as sustanability goes, the lower on the food chain that we eat, the better. By nature and means of demands, there are naturally higher populations of species lower on the food chain. These species reproduce faster and easier. Therefore, when we fish and eat those… we are making a more sustainable choice. The higher up on the seafood food chain that we eat (sharks, swordfish, and tuna being at the top) the lesser the populations get, and the slower they are to reproduce. Therefore it can be damaging to the environment to eat species that are high up on the food chain OFTEN. Again, as with most everything is nutrition, moderation is the key. In this case, not only for your health, but for our ocean’s health.

This article in the Healthletter came with an extremely helpful seafood chart based off of the National Geographic Seafood Decision Guide which I have linked here. Their best picks for seafood that are rated both SUSTAINABLE AND LOW MERCURY are Catfish (US), Clams (farmed and US wild), Stone Crab, Crayfish/Crawfish (US farmed), Spiny Lobster (CA, FL & Mexico), Mussels (farmed), Oysters (farmed and wild), Salmon (AK, wild), Pacific Sardines (CA & US), Scallops (farmed), Pink Shrimp (OR), Stripped Bass (Farmed), Tilapia (Equador and US farmed,  and Rainbow trout (US farmed). Those on this list that also reported high omega three levels are Wild AK Salmon and Pacific Sardines. Writing this is making me want to get into sardines. I have never really ventured out to try them much but they are such a less expensive and environmentally friendly healthy seafood option!

The interviewee in this article recommends cooking fish at home in oven baked at 275 dgrees for 25 minutes rather than broiler risking high heat dry out of fish. To Olympia Seafood I go… Have a Healthy day!

Center for Science in the Public Interest. July/ Aug: Save Our Seafood What’s good for us and the oceans. Nutrition Action Health Letter. 2013; 3-7.