Recently there has been a lot of chatter in the news about the safety of our seafood.  Some of the growing concern is due to the nuclear disaster in Japan – how is radiation effecting what we’re eating?  As reported in The New York Times, the esteemed Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert has outfitted his kitchen with a radiation detector (!).  That said, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that spokespeople from the FDA say there is no realistic threat to Northern Pacific fish.
It’s hard to know what to do with such wildly disparate information, except not eat wild fish until we know more.
I realize this flies in the face of what I suggested in The Conscious Kitchen: that the best fish to eat is well-caught and wild, despite the fact that our waterways are the runoff for every single thing we have done wrong, environmentally speaking.
Unfortunately farmed isn’t a choice to turn to in tough times. The New York Times just reported on the factory farming of tilapia, nicknamed “aquatic chicken” because it “breeds easily and tastes bland.” Not very enticing. These fish are factory farmed–just like their feathered bretheren–and gain weight easily from their largely corn and soy based diets. That corn and soy is usually heavily sprayed and often genetically modified. If fish aren’t eating the aquatic plants they should, their nutritional value to us human predators diminishes rapidly.  “A portion of tilapia has 135 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, a portion of salmon has over 2,000 milligrams.”  Hmmm. What’s the point?
These issues are deeply confusing, even upsetting. As environmental issues–and oil gushing into places like the Gulf–come up, as species are overfished, then (somewhat) replenished, as changes happen, my approach changes. I start by eating what I said I eat in The Conscious Kitchen: well caught wild that I’ve double checked with a group that tracks contaminants in seafood is still my first choice if and when I want to eat fish (which, admittedly, isn’t often). I always stay informed and talk to my fishmonger, and suggest you do, too.
A few thoughts on purchasing fish from The Conscious Kitchen:
The main environmental issues for wild seafood, ocean or fresh-water, are sustainability and harvesting methods (how the fish was caught).  A number of species are currently drastically overfished – cod has long been the poster child of a depleted fish, so much so that there have been cod fishing bans from the Northwest Atlantic to the Baltic Sea.  Sharks, bluefin tuna, and many kinds of West Coast rockfish also are overfished, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  What’s been depleted can sometimes be renewed, so check online for the latest information.  With regard to how fish are being caught, some methods are environmentally friendlier than others.  To learn more about these, go to
The main environmental issues for farmed fish and seafood – pollution and sustainability – are tightly linked to personal health concerns.  Many fish farms, domestic and abroad, use feed that’s similar to the gunk that factory-farmed animals are fed, including antibiotics and hormones, plus dyes (this is what makes farmed salmon as pink as its wild counterpart), and other undesirable additives.  In 2009, a neurologist from the University of Louisville issued a warning in a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease saying that farmed fish that were fed cow by-products could even be at risk for mad cow disease.
Some farmed seafood is actually fed wild, sometimes overfished fish.  Ironic.  This further depletes the waterways and makes the finished product high in environmental toxins like PCBs.  There are even well-meaning farmers attempting to raise so called “organic” shrimp who also raise purer farmed fish to feed their purer farmed shrimp.  That sounds like an unanswerable riddle for the carbon footprint crunchers!
Another Tip:
When you’re in front of a fish counter or looking at a restaurant menu, if you don’t have a safe seafood card in your wallet, whip out your phone!  Text the Blue Ocean Institute‘s handy Fish-Phone – 30644 – with the word “fish” and the species you’re looking to get information on, and they text you right back with environmental and health information, giving your choices a Red, Yellow, or Green light.