Sustainable Seafood: Fish to Eat and Fish to Avoid for Optimal Health

Roasted salmon with fresh peppers and onions

Identifying the best sources of fish and other seafood can be overwhelming. If you’re looking for seafood sources that benefit not only your health, but also the environment, it adds another layer of confusion.

According to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), nearly three billion people rely on seafood as a major source of protein around the world. Luckily, some great organizations are making it easier to choose seafood that’s both healthy and good for the planet.

Here are four important things to remember when taking your next trip to the fish market or store.

1. Choose Sustainable Seafood

The reasons for buying seafood that’s sustainably sourced are plentiful:

  • Overfishing
  • Harmful catching methods
  • Unintentional capture of other marine species
  • Habitat destruction
  • Overuse of antibiotics 
  • Water pollution

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one-third of global fish populations are overexploited and dangerously depleted. Nearly 30 percent of oceans and fish stocks are fished beyond sustainable limits, threatening coastal communities and national economies.

The good news is there are organizations proactively leading the charge to keep the public informed and educated on what’s best for personal health, oceans, fish, and the planet. More than 280 fisheries in 33 countries have been certified sustainable using the MSC standard—the world’s leading program to ensure wild-caught fisheries are well managed and sustainable.

MSC uses its ecolabel and fishery certification program to promote sustainable fishing practices and help people make better choices when purchasing seafood, Next time you’re at the store, look for the MSC label that supports ethical practices crucial for future food security and prosperity in our oceans.

2. Fish to Eat

Once you understand how to identify sustainable sources of fish and seafood, you need to understand which kinds of fish you should be eating.

For healthy fish that contain the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, follow Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Super Green list:

  • Atlantic Mackerel (purse seine, from Canada and the U.S.)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
  • Salmon, Canned (wild-caught, from Alaska)

For fish from certified sustainable fisheries, use MSC’s Fish to Eat list, which includes:

  • Crab
  • Halibut
  • Lobster
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp/Prawns
     

3. Fish to Avoid

As you may know, too much exposure to mercury can be harmful to children and adults. The Environmental Defense Fund provides health advisories on fish to avoid for this reason. Typically, bigger fish contain higher levels of mercury because they feed on smaller fish.

Here are some fish to avoid or consume less frequently:

  • Orange Roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna

4. Local Is Best

The farm-to-fork concept may not be new, but many people don’t know that it’s also available in the fish world. Customers paying to receive a portion of a fisherman’s catch is growing in popularity.

Called community-supported fisheries (CSFs), these programs allow you to understand how your seafood is sourced and help local fishing economies. Many sustainable fisheries will use low-impact catch methods like hook and line. You can visit localcatch.org to find a CSF near you.

And if that option is just not feasible, NRDC suggests purchasing from a trusted retailer or businesses with higher standards for the seafood they sell. A good plan of action is to keep it close to home and enjoy seafood from sources you trust.

By shifting your purchasing patterns and partnering with sustainable organizations, you can improve your personal health, the oceans, the fish, and the future.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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About the Author

Fran Benedict

Health and Nutrition Counselor
Fran Benedict is a certified health and nutrition counselor and the founder of SimplyMindful.com . She has been on a path of health promotion and behavior for more than 15 years and loves discovering new ways to bring attention and intention into everyday life. She believes in the extraordinary power of the mind to create a quality of life every person deserves, with an emphasis on the relation to oneself as the foundation for everything else. A member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Fran enjoys supporting a range of health-promotion initiatives from multi-week wellness programs in the corporate setting, to nutritional...Read more