Figuring out fish
I’m standing at the fish counter, paralyzed by indecision.
Is it okay to buy the grouper?
Was it fished responsibly?
Is it on the endangered list?
Is there a health warning associated with it?
Why is this so hard?
I used to buy fish without thinking about it. I wandered up to the counter and bought whatever looked good. Then about 10 years ago I ordered salmon and my fish monger shook his head and said, “You don’t want that.” I was stunned and meekly responded, “I don’t?”
He explained to me that the salmon I had picked was farm raised and full of antibiotics, which are suspected to have negative health effects for humans. He steered me instead to a wild salmon. I pushed back that he was just trying to get me to buy something more expensive, a charge he denied with encouragement to research it.
I took his advice and found a dizzying array of warnings about fish. A number of fish species, like the very popular Chilean Sea Bass, are in jeopardy from overfishing and the ocean habitat is being damaged by irresponsible harvesting techniques. Other ocean fish, like tuna and swordfish, can be hazardous to eat often because of high mercury and contaminant levels. Farmed fish, if not properly raised, is full of antibiotics because of the crowded conditions, not unlike a cattle feedlot.
As I read the piles of research I became more and more confused. How was I ever going to pick fish again? Luckily, I had a fish monger I trusted and I found the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list that ranks fish based on the health of the species and how it is caught.
Armed with a little knowledge and a handy iPhone app, I have found retailers that I trust and feel comfortable asking questions about how and where the fish was harvested. I can now march up the to the counter with confidence and order grouper, snapper and even salmon knowing that I’m being a good steward of the ocean while enjoying my seafood. Such a show off!
You can learn more about some of the tools and retailers that are making it easier to choose seafood wisely in my recent article for Edible Austin magazine.
Don’t be afraid of that fish!