Confused about what to buy or order as seafood choices become more abundant this summer? Here's some advice from the new book, "The Perfect Protein: The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World" by the CEO of Oceana, Andy Sharpless, and Suzannah Evans. Just remember these four terms:
Wild (not organic)
Go wild, not organic. You might have seen “organic” fish at your local restaurant, but the truth is that there is no such thing as an organic wild fish. The “organic” label refers to how the fish is raised, as is the case when you buy organic milk, apples or other food. There are some organic fish farms outside the U.S., but none of them have been certified by domestic authorities yet.
Instead, we recommend that you stick with the wild and local labels to guide your responsible seafood choices. Simply put, wild fish that are caught from a well-managed fishery are not only more sustainable, they’re often more nutritious and tasty. Wild salmon can have twice as much omega-3 fatty acids per ounce and half the fat of farmed salmon. Today, it takes about five pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon, producing protein at a net loss.
Choose local. The United States has some of the best-regulated wild fisheries in the world, where stocks of wild salmon, halibut and other fish are all generally well managed. While these fisheries are far from perfect, there is a better chance that if you are eating a wild American fish, it is being managed with science-based quotas and the fishermen catching it are not destroying habitats.
Many Americans are not fans of “little fish” like sardines and anchovies. But they should be! We enthusiastically recommend eating any of the small stuff whenever you can find it. A grilled fresh sardine or anchovy is many a chef’s (and our) favorite seafood option. You can also find canned or bottled sardines, anchovies and herring at your local market; they are delicious by themselves or as a tasty addition to other dishes. Plus, these small fish are a nutritional powerhouse, providing a high-density hit of protein and omega 3 fatty acids.
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Small fish are largely free from the toxins that accumulate in larger fish and are generally caught without using destructive bottom trawling methods that can destroy centuries-old seafloor habitat. Little fish could feed hundreds of millions of people sustainably and healthily if managed wisely. You can think of small fish as the espresso shot of the seafood world: an intense hit of the good stuff.
Wild or farmed, shellfish are not only nutritious and delicious, they significantly improve the environment around them because they filter and clean the water. Foodies will be glad to know that unlike with salmon, there’s no real taste difference between wild and farmed shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels, and environmentalists will be equally glad to learn that one ton of harvested oyster meat offsets the equivalent of the waste contribution of 38 people per year. As chef Barton Seaver said, “It’s our patriotic duty to eat as many farm-raised shellfish as we can.”
P.S. Don’t worry about being perfect
Don’t worry about being perfect – just try to be good. Too often, the teenager working the summer job behind your local fish counter or as a server at your favorite seafood restaurant may not know whether the filet of “cod” on the menu was caught off the coast of Iceland with a hook and line or on Georges Bank with bottom trawl gear (or is in fact cod at all). So try to base your seafood decisions on these four guidelines when you can.