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Bluefin tuna might be a delicious addition to your sushi platter, but the poor, overfished bluefin is not the best choice when it comes to sustainability. Luckily, more and more people are becoming attuned to the importance of sustainable seafood: A new NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll of 3,000 Americans found that 80% of people who eat fish often say that it’s "important" or "very important" that their fish is sustainably caught. In addition, many respondents said they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable seafood.
But what exactly constitutes “sustainable” when it comes to seafood, and how can you be sure what you’re buying fits the bill? According to various environmental organizations, sustainability can encompass everything from whether a species is being overfished, to the long-term health of a wild species population, to whether the fishing methods used are environmentally friendly.
That’s a lot to remember when your stomach is growling at the fish counter. So some retailers and several non-profits have implemented ratings systems to help simplify things for consumers. The ratings use color-coded or numbered labels to help consumers distinguish which fish are sustainable and which aren’t. For example, Whole Foods displays the color-coded ratings from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute for wild-caught seafood. As of last year, the grocery chain no longer sells unsustainable, red-rated seafood and instead only carries green (good) and yellow (fair) choices.
Although stores like Whole Foods try to make it easy to decide which fish to buy, such information isn’t readily available at every grocery store or fish market. So if sustainability is your goal, there are several species to avoid. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s national seafood guide, among the least-sustainable choices are Chilean sea bass; Atlantic cod; several tuna species, including bluefin and yellowfin; imported mahi-mahi; red snapper; and imported shrimp.
What to buy instead? Green-rated choices include striped bass; light, canned skipjack tuna; farmed scallops; catfish from the United States; and farmed rainbow trout.
For an easy, go-to reference, the Monterey Bay Aquarium also publishes free national, sushi, and regional pocket guides that can be downloaded either as a PDF document or smartphone app. The guides list several green-, yellow-, and red-rated species and can be found online here.
Photo: Jackie L Chan