Twelve fish to keep off your dish

Mar 26 2013 - 5:16pm
seafood, contaminants, mercury, pollution, overharvesting

Seafood is generally deemed to be healthy; however, a number of popular ones you should avoid at all costs. Prevention magazine reported that the nonprofit Food & Water Watch compiled a list of the 12 least-healthy seafood products; they also note healthier alternatives. It is likely that a number of your favorites are on the list.

Food & Water Watch notes that our oceans have become so depleted of wild fish stocks, and so polluted with industrial contaminants, that trying to figure out the fish that are both safe and sustainable is a daunting task. They note that “Good fish” lists can change year after year, because stocks rebound or get depleted every few years.

Imported Catfish: Almost 90% of the catfish imported to the US comes from Vietnam, where use of antibiotics that are banned in the U.S. is widespread. Furthermore, the two varieties of Vietnamese catfish sold in the US, Swai and Basa, are not technically considered catfish by the federal government; therefore, they are not held to the same inspection rules that other imported catfish are.

Eat This Instead: Purchase domestic, farm-raised catfish. It is responsibly farmed and plentiful, making it one of the best fish you can eat. Or, try Asian carp, an invasive species with a similar taste to catfish that is out-competing wild catfish and endangering the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Caviar: Caviar from beluga and wild-caught sturgeon are susceptible to overfishing; in addition, the species are also being threatened by an increase in dam building that pollutes the water in which they live. All forms of caviar come from fish that take a long time to mature, which means that it takes a while for populations to rebound.

Eat This Instead: If you really love caviar, opt for fish eggs from American Lake Sturgeon or American Hackleback/Shovelnose Sturgeon caviar from the Mississippi River system.

Atlantic Cod: Chronic mismanagement by the National Marine Fisheries Service and low stock status made it very difficult to recommend. Atlantic cod stocks collapsed in the mid-1990s and are in such disarray that the species is now listed as one step above endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Eat This Instead: Pacific cod stocks are still strong and are one of Food and Water Watch’s best fish picks.

American Eel: Also called yellow or silver eel, this fish, which is commonly offered at sushi restaurants is highly contaminated with PCBs and mercury. The fisheries are also suffering from some pollution and overharvesting.

Eat This Instead: If you like the taste of eel, opt for Atlantic- or Pacific-caught squid instead.

Imported Shrimp: Imported shrimp holds the designation of being the worst choice among the 12 fish on this list. Most (90%) of shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported. Imported farmed shrimp comes with a laundry list of contaminants: antibiotics, residues from chemicals used to clean pens, filth like mouse hair, rat hair, and pieces of insects. Part of this has to do with the fact that less than 2% of all imported seafood (shrimp, crab, catfish, or others) gets inspected before it is sold.

Eat This Instead: Purchase domestic shrimp; 70% of domestic shrimp comes from the Gulf of Mexico, which relies heavily on shrimp for economic reasons. Pink shrimp from Oregon are another good choice; the fisheries there are certified under the stringent Marine Stewardship Council guidelines.

Atlantic Flatfish: This group of fish includes flounder, sole, and halibut that are caught off the Atlantic coast. They found their way onto the list because of heavy contamination and overfishing that dates back to the 1800s. According to Food & Water Watch, populations of these fish are as low as 1% of what is necessary to be considered sustainable for long-term fishing.


Eat This Instead: Pacific halibut or other mild-flavored white-fleshed fish, such as domestically farmed catfish or tilapia.

Atlantic Salmon (both wild-caught and farmed): It is actually illegal to capture wild Atlantic salmon because the fish stocks are so low, and they are low, in part, because of farmed salmon. Salmon farming is very polluting: Thousands of fish are crammed into pens, which leads to the growth of diseases and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides. Often, the fish escape and compete with native fish for food, leading to declines in native populations. Currently, all fish labeled “Atlantic salmon” comes from fish farms.

Eat This Instead: Opt for wild Alaskan salmon.

Imported King Crab: The main problem with imported crab is that most of it comes from Russia, where limits on fish harvests are not strongly enforced. In addition, imported king crab is often misnamed Alaskan king crab. It is often seen labels at supermarkets that say “Alaskan King Crab, Imported.” Alaskan king crab is a completely different type of shellfish and it is much more responsibly harvested than the imported products.


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This is so eye opening! Thank you. I have a friend who always chooses orange roughy. Must share this.
It was an eye opener for me as well. We now have to modify our seafood selections.
I think that 90% of the shrimp, (maybe more), sold in the North West comes from Asia. Before the BP spill in the Gulf most of the shrimp came from there. I no longer see that 70% from the Gulf anymore, and if I did I would be reluctant because of the chemicals used for the cleanup. I have to search far and wide to find any USA shrimp, even from Oregon, which is nearby. It makes me wonder where all that USA, Gulf of Mexico and Oregon shrimp are being sold?