We're supposed to be eating more seafood, right? Because it's good for us - with those healthy Omega-3s and all. I personally could eat grilled salmon a few times a week. I especially love it on top of a mixed greens salad with a few green beans and baby potatoes. But buying seafood is a little more complicated than it seems at first glance. First there's that little problem of mercury ingestion, then there's the issue of buying sustainably raised seafood and of course cost comes into the picture because the good stuff can get pricey.
On the mercury issue...methylmercury, the type found in many fish, is a dangerous neurotoxin. Prolonged exposure to mercury can cause kidney and nervous system damage. It's especially harmful to developing fetuses, breast-fed babies and young children because their little brains are still rapidly developing. NRDC has a wallet guide geared toward pregnant women and children to help you keep tabs what fish are low in mercury (salmon is, thank goodness!), which fish you should limit (canned tuna - a high protein staple for many kids) and which ones to avoid altogether if you are in the sensitive groups (swordfish and orange roughy for instance). So far, my kids are not big tunafish eaters, but when it comes to tuna, canned chunk light is the kind to buy - just limit servings to 6 or less per month. (Albacore tuna is higher in mercury and should be limited to 3 servings or less per month.)
When it comes to sustainability the issue gets pretty darn complicated. And my memory sucks these days so when I go to the store I rely on this handy wallet sized Seafood Guide produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to guide me toward the most sustainable options. They break it down by Best Choices, Good Alternatives and what to Avoid. After scouring the list, I came up with a few interesting guidelines that just might stick in my memory:
- With whitefish like cod, halibut, flounder and sole - look for fish raised in the Pacific - and avoid the Atlantic.
- When you're buying salmon keep this one word in mind...WILD, not farmed.
- It's a bummer but consumption of shrimp should be limited in order to ease the burden on the eco-system. When you do buy shrimp, look primarily for US farmed or wild and avoid imported shrimp.
- Most other shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters and crabs) are A-OK anytime, anywhere!
- Believe it or not, farmed bay scallops are preferred big time over sea scallops because they pose few environmental threats. If you're buying sea scallops, try to buy from the Upper Atlantic (US & Canada) and avoid the overfished Mid-Atlantic region.
- Remember that Chilean seabass that used to be on every other restaurant menu? Not any more - it's now on the NO-NO list due to overfishing and bycatch of the endangered albatross and other seabirds.
Just one more thing about salmon...my all-time favorite fish. In the book The Walmart Effect, there is a chapter about farmed salmon from Chile. Trust me it was gross...the poor fish live in water so dirty (from their own waste) that they have to feed the fish antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. So now the water is full of shit and drugs. Imagine the destruction to the eco-system. It's bad news. So like I said, buy the WILD caught salmon. And even better, look for Alaskan Wild Salmon because it is certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Wild caught salmon from other parts of the Pacific NW are good alternatives but there have been problems with habit damage and overfishing. Luckily a lot of canned and pouch salmon are wild-caught. It comes in handy for quick weeknight meals when I want to get the family a good dose of protein and Omega-3's. (I've also found frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon at Trader Joe's - not as good as fresh but still...)
Now that I'm armed with all the facts, I'm going to try to serve more seafood around here. And I've got my handy wallet guides to help me if I forget!