Food Issue: Smart Food

Fish Picks: Your guide to healthy, eco-friendly seafood.

By Tim McGinnis
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Dec. 3, 2008

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Photographs by Michael Persico

By ordering those fish dishes, we may be contributing to a culture that negatively impacts the ecosystem through overfishing or irresponsible practices that create collateral damage like killing loggerhead turtles and seabirds. Many of the larger carnivorous fish contain high traces of contaminants like mercury, which means that the yellowfin sashimi we all enjoy washing down with a bullet can of Sapporo could be harming our health.

The good news is there are alternatives that are both healthy and sustainable, and many times these alternatives are sold for considerably less than their eco-unfriendly counterparts.

Avoid: Atlantic farmed salmon. Just like the industrial farming complex on dry land, these salmon are packed into overcrowded pens and pumped full of antibiotics. Their waste runoff pollutes the local marine ecosystem. Alternative: wild Alaskan salmon. Unlike Sarah Palin's rise to power, salmon fishing in Alaska is well-planned, safe and intelligently executed. Sure, it's a bit more expensive than the farmed variety, but it tastes much better.

Avoid: Chilean sea bass. Due to the huge demand from the U.S., Patagonian toothfish shrewdly marketed as Chilean sea bass are wildly overfished by illegal fishing operations. Estimates say twice the legal limit are poached in a given year. Alternative: striped bass. New Jersey fishermen haul in these stripers after they spawn southward and make their late spring pilgrimage north to New England, ensuring a fresh population the following year.

Avoid: red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico. Snapper are overfished, killed accidentally by shrimp boats or are victims of the pollution accrued after many offshore drilling platforms damaged by hurricanes spilled oil into the gulf. Alternative: herring (Atlantic sardines). Not a straight-up exchange (herring has a higher oil content), but the presence of more Omega-3 fatty acids benefit your brain, heart and muscles.

Avoid: imported shrimp. Unregulated shrimp trawls scoop up huge shrimp catches and everything else in the way of the net, including sea turtles. These animals, known as bycatch, are thrown back but usually after they've been killed. Alternative: domestic shrimp. Large populations in American waters and advanced technology like the Turtle Excluder Device allow for a more environmentally sound harvest.

Avoid: longline-caught tuna, albacore, bigeye and yellowfin. Contaminants are present because of their higher place on the fish food chain. Dead turtles, dead birds, dead humans ... need we say more? Alternative: skipjack tuna. Also known as bonito, this fish has a lower mercury content and is caught with troll poles rather than multihook longline poles. This eliminates bycatch killing.

Avoid: cod. Less than 50 years ago, New England fishermen were catching cod weighing in at 80 pounds each. Today they haul in 10-pound cod on a regular basis. These immature fish haven't been given the opportunity to propagate their species, leaving numbers to dwindle at an alarming rate. Alternative: wild Alaskan pollock. Most fisheries with this fish are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council standard. Beer-battered fish and chips, here we come.


Recommended Philadelphia fishmongers

John Yi Fish Market,
Reading Terminal Market,
45 N. 12th St.
215.923.0487
Ippolito's Seafood,
1300 Dickinson St.
215.389.8906.
www.ippolitoseafood.biz
Anastasi Seafood,
Italian Market,
1101 S. Ninth St.
215.462.0550.
www.phillyitalianmarket.com/market/anastasi_seafood

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COMMENTS

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1. Matt said... on Dec 3, 2008 at 02:09PM

“Does Tim McGinnis not know that there are fish farms that hold themselves to certain standards and forgo the antibiotics and growth hormones, make the investment in more space so they can raise healthier fish and put out a better product and take measures to avoid affecting the local marine ecosystem? Does he not know that the South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish Longline Fishery was certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council and currently provides sustainable Chilean sea bass in the US? Certain fish stocks, like cod, are being depleted, and there's no way around that. But other fish, like farmed Atlantic salmon and Chilean sea bass, while the majority of the farms and fisheries are trouble, don't always need to be avoided. Rather, smart consumers can find a sustainable and eco-friendly version from fishermen, fish farmers and fisheries that care about their product and the environment it comes from by finding fish markets and restaurants they trust and asking about the supply chain and the product. A good chef or fishmonger who cares about their craft and their product will know about their fish, where it came from and how it got to their refrigerator, and they'll share that information with you. Addressing an important and complex issue like this with broad generalizations that ignore exceptions to the norm does people on both sides of the consumer:supplier equation a disservice. Tim should just stick to cooking.”

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2. Toothfish said... on Dec 4, 2008 at 06:15AM

“Did you not see the word "illegal" next to fishing operations in regards to Chilean sea bass?”

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3. mainah said... on Dec 4, 2008 at 07:15AM

“I agree that there are many oversimplifications in this article, as there are likely to be in the comments. There's a valid argument to be made that the MSC-certified South Georgian fishery will give consumers a false understanding of how the chilean sea bass fishery is prosecuted as a whole. Unfortunately, your average seafood eater probably doesn't want to delve into too many details to understand the big picture. That bigger picture includes the importance of supporting a local seafood economy. Coastal communities' economic sustainability in many parts of New England are tied to the Gulf of Maine fisheries, including cod. And while we're at it, the cod stocks are recovering, but other parts of the groundfish complex are declining. So it's not a simple choice to stop eating New England cod. From my perspective, the value of supporting my local fishermen, is as great or greater than going to Whole Foods to purchase MSC certified seafood that was shipped from halfway around the world.”

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