As we say goodbye to summer and hello to those “Ber” months, it’s easy to think that your days for dunking a hunk of lobster in butter are numbered. But, actually, now is the perfect time to chow down on seafood. As the old adage says, we can (and according to some should) be eating certain types of fish, crustacean, and mollusks in months whose names have the letter “R.” September all the way through April are prime months to be chowing down on the fruits of the sea, as the temperature of the oceans are slowly falling and marine animals become more plentiful.
But as someone who’s anxious about the way we’ve been treating our oceans, I always find myself asking: What is the most responsible way to consume seafood? Between the issues of overfishing (Greenpeace puts it simply: “There are too many boats chasing too few fish”), destructive fishing practices, pollution, climate change, and the slavery fishing industry—well, just typing all that made me hyperventilate a little.
But fish are full of omega-3s, lower in fat, and, in general, a healthier source of animal protein than chicken, beef, or pork. So, I went looking for answers. What’s the best way to satisfy seafood cravings without contributing more harm to our delicate oceans?
Eat what others don’t want. Some people call them “trash fish,” but these fish are far from garbage. Mackerel, anchovy, and porgy only earned the “trash fish” moniker because they weren’t deemed to be as attractive as those pink (like salmon) and white (like cod) fishes that are popular buys at restaurants. Sometimes these “trash fish” get a lucky break and are thrown back into the sea when they’re caught, but, for the most part, types like rockfish and sardines are readily available and—bonus—are delicious and packed with nutrients. On top of everything else, “trash fish” tend to be smaller animals and lower on their respective food chains, which means they’re less likely to be affected by bioaccumulation or biomagnification. Experience a wider variety of tastes and textures and give these fish a chance.
Eat what others REALLY don’t want. Invasive species are a problem in a lot of the world’s oceans. Just ask Norway, which up until a few years ago had a near-catastrophe on their hands. King crab—those giant, spiny, tasty beasts—are native to the Bering Sea (near Alaskan waters). During the 1960s, however, they were introduced into Northern Russian waters by Stalin’s Soviet Union government. King crab provided Russia with a new and valuable source of food, but once ocean currents started bringing the fast-growing and ever-hungry crabs into neighboring Norwegian waters, we had a problem. The giant crabs devour vegetation on the seafloor like crazy, and Norway wants them out, so feel no guilt chowing down on those succulent, Norwegian legs. Same can be said for lionfish (a great option for making fish tacos) caught along the East Coast of the US and green crabs from Massachusetts. Check out this list from Eat The Invaders, an organization that aims to “fight invasive species, one bite at a time”.
Join a fish share. This probably isn’t news to you, but learning where your food comes from is always a good thing. A good way to learn where your fish, oysters, etc. come from is to sign up for a CSF (like a CSA but fishier) in your area. Each one varies in terms of their offerings, but you can almost always be assured of seasonality, quality, freshness, and the fact that your seafood is selected from the largest, sustainable seafood assortment in the world. Fulton Fish Market will help you find your local CSF, but if you’re in the NYC/Brooklyn area I recommend checking out Mermaid’s Garden.
Ask your fishmonger and always do your research. Always ask your seafood seller where and how the fish you’re buying was raised and/or caught. A good rule of thumb is that if they don’t know, don’t buy from them. But hands down, the best, easiest, and most respected resource available to us is The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. A searchable database (and app) that lists every imaginable type of fish, mollusk, and crustacean from “Best Choice” to “Good Alternative” and “Avoid”. It will tell you not only what type is the best to eat, but which fishing methods and locations are safer than others and why. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be surprised by some of the things on the list. Having heard about dolphin by-catch, I’ve always thought that tuna is a terrible choice for the environment. But after checking this site I’ve learned that troll and pole-caught tuna from certain regions is not only a good choice but a “Best Choice”. Of course there are 60 types of tuna on the market they want us to avoid, but it’s good to know there are better options.
Buy local if you can. Support your local fishermen! Whether you’re on the East Coast, West Coast, or smack dab in the middle of the country: Where there’s water, there’s fish. Not only does choosing local fish have a smaller carbon footprint, it’s usually cheaper, too. LocalCatch is a great organization that works with over 422 local fisheries focused on “boat-to-fork” fishing. All across North America, they’re committed to “providing local, healthful, low-impact seafood via community supported fisheries”. Use their search tool to find someone near you and use your appetite for good.
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