Net Benefits: 9 Top Eco-Friendly Fish and Seafood Choices
What’s an eco-conscious seafood lover to do? Anyone concerned with the environmental impact of the food they buy can look for the USDA “organic” label on everything from apples to smoked sausage, but one big swath of the grocery store remains organic-free: the seafood counter. There are currently no national standards for what might constitute “organic” seafood.
Thankfully, the experts at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program have studied fish and seafood populations the world over, evaluated how they’re caught (or farmed) and come up with a handy pocket guide to let consumers know whether today’s catch is ecologically nasty or nice — and in the nick of time. Many fish populations have plummeted worldwide, while marine biologists estimate that humans have taken as much as 90 percent of large predatory fish, such as shark and swordfish, from the world’s seas.
The aquarium’s guide is easy to follow, though you still often have to pay close attention to where the fish you’re buying is from and how it was caught. For example, wild-caught Alaskan salmon gets an enthusiastic “best choice” designation, while most farmed salmon get a stern “avoid.” Tilapia farmed in the U.S.? Thumbs up! Tilapia farmed in Asia? Thumbs down.
We’ve made it even easier: all of the fish and seafood listed here have been designated “best choice” options by Seafood Watch, and we’ve matched them with recipes that are sure to satisfy your seafood cravings — sans the guilt on the side.
Use U.S. farm-raised catfish to make
Lightly breaded catfish, pan-fried and topped with sweet peppers and coleslaw become a heaping po’ boy that’s hearty enough for dinner. Make sure you’re buying “U.S. farm-raised” catfish, which are raised sustainably — some so-called “catfish” actually come from overseas and are poorly farmed.
Use Pacific cod to make
Most of the Atlantic cod in U.S waters have been severely overfished, but you can still happily enjoy the delectable richness of this tender white fish (as in the robust casserole here) when you look for Pacific cod that comes from the U.S. or Atlantic cod from Iceland.
Use Alaskan halibut to make
Mild tasting but firm fleshed, halibut is an exceptionally good fish for grilling, and it takes well to simple flavors that kick it up just a notch, like this lime-and-cilantro marinade. Avoid Atlantic halibut, which have been overfished and are caught using trawls that destroy the ocean floor; Alaskan halibut are more sustainably harvested.
Use farm-raised Arctic char to make
Most arctic char sold in the United States is farmed in an environmentally responsible way that minimizes pollution and reduces the risks for the farmed fish to impact the health of wild ones. Similar in taste and texture to salmon, arctic char don’t need much fussing over to taste great, as this simple pan-sear recipe demonstrates.
Use farm-raised mussels to make
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “The U.S. imports most of its mussels from developed nations with stringent environmental regulations.” Which is good news for anyone who savors the delicate taste of mussels steamed in white wine and accompanied by thick slices of toast to sop up the delicious broth.
Use wild-caught Alaskan salmon to make
Alaska’s salmon fisheries are some of the best-managed fisheries in the world, so you can’t go wrong (either in terms of taste or environmental responsibility) with wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Farmed salmon is another story; many sustainable fisheries experts charge that salmon farms pollute heavily and can sicken nearby wild salmon populations.
Use farm-raised scallops to make
Pan-seared scallops luxuriate in a creamy (yet surprisingly healthy) sauce that’s brightened with green peas. The Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends farmed scallops or wild diver-caught sea scallops from Mexico.
Use Atlantic striped bass to make
Atlantic striped bass are an environmental success story: the majority of the population spawns in the Chesapeake Bay. Thirty years ago, the bay was so polluted that the population plummeted, but today the bay is cleaner and the fish have rebounded. Tender and moist, striped bass stands up well to bold, acidic flavors, like this cider glaze.
Use U.S. farm-raised tilapia to make
Tilapia is a good, versatile white fish, perfect for these fiesta-spiced fish tacos. Be careful when you shop, though: the Monterey Bay Aquarium ranks U.S. farmed tilapia as a “best choice”; farmed tilapia from Central and South America as an acceptable alternative; but strongly discourages tilapia farmed in Asia because of poor environmental regulations.
Go fish! Check out all our fish and seafood recipes!