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Reader Response: Better Fish Choices

Thanks so much to everyone for their comments and emails on last week’s “Farmed versus Wild Salmon [1]” post. The response, both posted and personal, was amazing. It’s what I love about doing the blog – getting you, our MDA readers, the information you want and the resources you can use. Keep those comments and suggestions coming!

I wanted to follow up on a few questions in particular. A number of folks, including David, wanted to know if you could tell how “wild” salmon was from the label. Also, what other kinds of fish would I recommend if salmon, for financial and/or personal environmental commitments, is off the table? Finally, readers like Brett were interested in knowing whether other canned fish like mackerel and sardines were necessarily wild and healthy alternatives.

First, let’s follow up on the issue of wild/half wild salmon. As I mentioned last week, the majority of “wild”-labeled salmon isn’t 100% wild. Most wild-caught salmon originate from hatcheries where they’re raised for the first half or so of their lives before being released into the wild for harvest later. Unfortunately, these fish are considered wild by regulating agencies, and no explanation is required for the “wild” label. Your best bet is to hone in on reputable companies that sell purportedly wild salmon and then grill their customer service staff to get information on the exact sources for their product. Follow the sales trail with gritty tenacity, and you have a decent shot of nailing down a good source for your consumer loyalty. (Talk about singing for your supper….)

As for other fish options, it depends how much of your decision is based on health and how much is based on sustainability. Sometimes the two categories (most healthy and most environmentally conscious) correlate, and sometimes they don’t. This is a health blog, but I know many of you out there (myself included) like to be informed on both fronts to make personal choices. The options in either case are extensive. While I’ll focus on health here, check out this resource (The Marine Stewardship Council, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch [2]) for more details and lists on environmental sustainability in the fishing industry.

Some healthy fish alternatives to salmon include species that offer hefty omega-3 benefits (per ounce) and are still relatively low in toxins like mercury and PCBs. I’ll caution that the list is continually changing. It’s news that’s worth keeping up on, and these lists will help you do just that. (National Geographic Green Guide Fish tale [3]) A list offered by the Environmental Defense Fund [4] goes so far as providing both a handy guide on toxin load in different fish species and recommended serving limits per month. It even breaks it down into recommendations for men, women, older kids and young ones. A great overview.

As for those species that offer both high omega-3s and low toxin risk, here are some budget-friendly samplings: light tuna, anchovies, sardines, Atlantic herring, and Atlantic mackerel. These species are generally wild caught, and they give salmon a run for its money. Anchovies, according to some nutritional sources [5], offers more omega-3s than wild salmon (3.4 grams versus 3.2 grams per 6 ounce serving). Sardines and mackerel are close runners-up. Farmed rainbow trout gets a thumbs up from many sources on both these fronts. However, I’d recommend being very familiar with the particular practices of a trout hatchery before buying. You want to avoid the same/similar antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals you find in conventional meats.

Finally, for those who love fish and want to learn more, I’d suggest picking up a copy of Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood [6] by Paul Johnson, seafood supplier to famous chefs such as Alice Waters.

Thanks again for your comments and questions.

svenwerk [7], snowriderguy [8] Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Scientists Warn of Undetected Toxins in Wild Fish

Omega-3 Round Up:

Omega 3 to 6 Ratio [9]

Omega 3 Daily Dose [10]

Omega 3 Food Sources [11]

Cooking Omegas [12]