Fishing for Health: Environmental Health

Most of us know that fish are good for our health, but how do we know which fish are good for environmental health? Like many other foods, we need transparency of where it came from and how it got to our plate. To complicate matters, we don’t have labels like “USDA Organic” to help guide us –  you don’t know what the fish is eating, so you can’t very well label it organic. What we do have is labeling of farmed or wild-caught, but that tells us very little about how it was caught or raised or treated after it was caught. The simple answer to a simple question, “How do I know if my seafood is sustainable?” It’s complicated.

That being said, there are some strategies for making that decision easier when looking for sustainable seafood.

Swap out the catfish called for in this Fish Tacos with Rhubarb Salsa recipe for any firm white fish that passes muster for a sustainability label.


Your grocer, farmers’ market, or fish market should be able to point out which fish are sustainably raised/caught. If they can’t, you can consider choosing another fish provider or relying on the strategies below.

Know the labels.

While seafood isn’t labeled with some of the typical seals we cling to (e.g. USDA Organic) there are some good labels to help guide you:

Unfortunately, labeling is a choice of the retailer, so while these are becoming more common, you may have to revert to the other two strategies.

When in doubt or in a hurry, eat off these lists.

Monterey Bay Seafood Watch has issued quite an extensive list of “good” and “best” choices for seafood including consumer guides by state. Or, for a super quick guide, here is their “quick picks” based on both environmental and human health (for human health they are looking primarily at mercury content and the amount of omega-3s).

The Super Green List

These items have levels of mercury below 216 parts per billion (ppb), provide at least 250 milligrams per day (mg/d) of omega-3s and are classified as a Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

  • Atlantic Mackerel (purse seine, from Canada and the U.S.)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
  • Salmon, Canned (wild-caught, from Alaska)

Other Healthy “Best Choices”

These items contain moderate amounts of mercury, provide between 100 and 250 mg per day (mg/d) of omega-3s and are classified as a Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

  • Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
  • Sablefish/Black Cod (from Alaska and Canadian Pacific)