Want Healthy, Safe Seafood? Consult the Superfish List
Confused about the best seafood choices? These “Super Green” fish are good for your health, free of contaminants, and without environmental downsides.
Get your omega-3s without ingesting hazardous chemicals or threatening endangered species.
In his book Oceana, Ted Danson, the actor and oceans advocate, writes that one-third of the world’s fisheries are currently in collapse, “unable to regenerate their populations fast enough to keep pace with the rate at which they are being caught or killed.” In an interview with Rodale.com, he told them that once you deal with overfishing, you can deal with all the other problems facing oceans today, whether it’s climate change, pollution, or simple negligence.
At the same time, doctors keep telling us to eat more seafood, because the healthy omega-3s in fish have been found ward off everything from prostate cancer to poor eyesight.
Can you have both—healthy fisheries and healthy people? Fortunately, yes. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Super Green” list of seafood—the fish that come from the least-pressured habitats, are free of industrial pollutants like mercury and dioxins, and also contain the highest levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Below are some of the selections from the list of best fish choices that you can use to conjure up dinner ideas.
#1: Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia). Before you write off all tuna as toxic and laden with mercury, there is good news. Albacore tuna caught in western U.S. and Canadian waters have lower levels of mercury than tuna caught in other areas of the world, due to the fact that these fish are generally younger, and therefore, have had less time to build up high levels of mercury. Environmentally, trolling and pole-fishing have less of an impact on other species than net-fishing because there’s no risk that other, non-tuna species will get harmed. This type of tuna won’t be easy to find in the average grocery store, but most brands sell it online. American Tuna brand sells canned tuna caught in well-managed fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council; you can purchase it online from Heritage Foods USA. Other brands include Pacific Fleet, MaryLu Seafoods, Wild Planet, and Wild Pacific Seafood.
#2: Wild-Caught Salmon from Alaska. In addition to being better for the environment, wild salmon are healthier for you than farmed. Both varieties of the fish have roughly the same levels of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but farmed salmon have twice as much unhealthy saturated fat as wild. Finding wild salmon is getting easier. As of the last year, mass-retail chain Target eliminated farmed salmon, instead stocking only salmon and salmon products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, one of the best verifications of seafood sustainably that currently exists. Starved for salmon recipe ideas? Use it in place of tuna for salmon-salad sandwiches, or try it in a Creamy White Bean Soup with Cabbage and Salmon. Another fish on Monterey Bay’s Super Green list, and one we wish were more widely available, is farmed coho salmon, the only salmon that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has found responsibly farmed. Rather than being raised in pens located in oceans, this salmon is grown in land-based tanks, so there’s no risk that the farmed salmon can escape and compete with native wild salmon for food or spread diseases or parasites to other fish, two problems associated with ocean-based pens. So far, the only company selling the salmon endorsed by Monterey Bay is Washington-based Aquaseed, but it doesn’t sell to the general public, so you won’t find Aquaseed salmon in stores.
#3: Oysters (farmed). Are oysters truly an aphrodisiac? The scientific community doesn’t seem to think so, but these mollusks do contain high levels of zinc, which can improve a man’s sexual health. If you’re planning an oyster supper anytime soon, here are a few important points to remember. First, oysters are sold alive, so never put them in a plastic bag (that basically suffocates them). The best way to store them is in a burlap or paper bag, covered with a damp towel. Also, leave any mud or debris on them until you’re ready to eat or cook them. The dirt has a protective insulating effect. Plan on about six live oysters per person, or, if you’re buying shucked oyster meat, plan on about 1/3 to ½ pint per serving.
#4: Pacific Sardines (wild-caught). During the 1950s, Pacific sardines practically went extinct, but the fisheries have since rebounded, making it one of the best fish you can buy now. You may consider sardines to be on a par with canned meat in terms of gastronomic cachet, but more chefs are starting to experiment with them, thanks to rising interest in sustainable seafood at restaurants. Visit any gourmet or natural food grocery store, and you’ll find sardines in all manner of flavors, whether plain or marinated in garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil. Try them in a simple Easy Sardine Sandwich, or get more creative with this Sardines and White Beans salad.
#5: Rainbow Trout (farmed). Long the trophy prize of recreational anglers, rainbow trout are tasty fish that most people enjoy, and they’re one of the more affordable seafood options. Wild trout aren’t necessarily endangered, but some varieties, particularly those native to Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, are threatened by nonnative species and have high levels of contamination from chemicals like PCBs. When you’re cooking trout, leave the scales on; you’ll be able to bread or coat the fish without having to add any extra oils. There are a hundred different ways to dress a trout. If you prefer simple recipes, bake it and dress it with lemon, paprika, or a basic mushroom sauce. When baking, measure the thickness of the fish and plan on 10 minutes per inch (5 minutes on each side), and bake at 400 to 450 degrees F.
#6: Mussels (farmed). Easier to find than low-mercury tuna or responsibly farmed salmon, mussels pack a powerful nutrient punch, particularly for this time of year. They’re rich in iron, which is good to stock up on if the warmer weather is enticing you to exercise more; studies have found that regular workouts can deplete a woman’s iron stores. Like oysters, mussels are also a good source of zinc. Plus, you can cook them in three minutes—they’re the healthiest fast food you can find. Prepare mussels in the traditional manner, or add them to a Spicy Seafood Linguine.
#7: Arctic Char (farmed). Arctic char isn’t as widely known as its two relatives, trout and salmon, but it’s popular among restaurant chefs, particularly those who want to serve nothing but sustainable fish. Native to the Arctic waters around Canada, Iceland, and Norway, the fish’s wild stocks have been sorely depleted by overfishing. Most arctic char sold in the U.S. is farmed in clean, land-based tanks, as opposed to dirty ocean-water pens. The flavor of arctic char is closer to that of trout, and, like trout, it’s versatile enough that you can cook it any which way and you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never had it before, try this recipe for Maple-Glazed Arctic Char, and if your culinary skills are a little more adventurous, experiment with this idea for Artic Char with Cucumber-Feta Relish and Jalapeño-Goat Cheese Hush Puppies.
#8: Barramundi (U.S.-farmed). Equally unfamiliar to a lot of us is the barramundi. It’s a mild white-fleshed fish native to Australia, where aboriginal fishermen collect it by hand. Although it lives in freshwater rivers, barramundi are among the most sustainably farmed fish you can find—provided they’re from the U.S. Farms here utilize land-based tanks where the fish are fed a largely vegetarian diet; in other countries, the fish are grown in ocean-based nets that pollute surrounding waters and endanger other species. Just bake, grill, or fry up the fish with a little lemon juice for dressing, or try this recipe for Barramundi with Swiss Chard & Roasted Sweet Potato from Australian chef Curtis Stone.
#9: Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from U.S. West Coast). Crab cakes, crab salad, stuffed crab…there are hundreds of ways to make use of a good crab. But most species sold in grocery stores, such as blue crab or king crab, live in habitats threatened with pollution and destruction. Dungeness crabs, on the other hand, are caught from an Oregon fishery that has been certified as “well managed” by the Marine Stewardship Council. The fishery there allows only males to be caught and restricts fishing during mating and molting seasons. As an added bonus, Dungeness crabs are caught with traps, not nets, so any bycatch that gets caught along with the crabs can be thrown back unharmed.
#10: Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from U.S. Atlantic). The Spaniards eat them in paella, and the Japanese eat them in sushi. Americans have learned to love them as calamari. If you can avoid frying your calamari, you have a really healthy fish, full of omega-3s and vitamin B12, a nutrient that helps ward off depression. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates all types of squid as either “best choices” or “good alternatives,” but longfin squid have healthier, more viable populations than other varieties. They also live in sand habitats that aren’t destroyed by fishermen. Slice a few rings of longfin squid into this Asian Calamari Salad, or for a healthier take on fried calamari, try sautéing it rather than deep-frying.