Ever think about where your seafood comes from? You might be surprised to learn that much of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported—frequently from places where health, safety and environmental standards are weak or non-existent. And less than 2 percent of seafood imports to the U.S. are inspected for contamination.
Sadly, many popular wild ﬁsh populations have been managed poorly and are depleted, are caught using gear that can hurt their habitat and other wildlife, or could contain substances like mercury or PCBs that can cause serious health problems.
Fortunately, there are still good domestic seafood options. Food & Water Watch has analyzed more than 100 fish and shellfish to create the Smart Seafood Guide, the only guide that assesses the human health and environmental impacts of eating certain seafood, as well as the socio-economic impacts on coastal and fishing communities. The guide can help you make healthier and more eco-friendly choices.
Here’s an excerpt from the guide of five things to consider the next time you are considering buying seafood at the grocery store or ordering it in a restaurant.
1. Local ﬁsh are few and far between. While diners at coastal restaurants often look forward to ordering seafood, much of the fish at restaurants and in stores is not local. Because of high demand, seafood on these menus often comes from other states or countries, so always remember to ask rather than assume that seafood is local and sustainable.
2. Atlantic salmon is farmed salmon. While Alaskan wild-caught salmon can be a healthy, sustainable option, farmed salmon is associated with environmental and social problems. One red-ﬂag is salmon labeled Atlantic. As wild Atlantic salmon populations have been driven close to extinction, salmon from this ocean are almost surely farmed.
3. Seafood labeled organic is not what it seems: There are no legal organic standards for seafood in the U.S., so fish labeled organic are imported, usually from northern Europe. And seafood labeled organic is farmed, not wild-caught.
4. Beware of imported shrimp: Although the U.S. has many healthy shrimp fisheries that support coastal communities, about 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported. Much of it comes from farms that are associated with heavy chemical use, environmental destruction and negative impacts for local communities.
5. Bivalve shellfish are often good options: In some cases, bivalve shellfish, like mussels, oysters and clams, are the most likely seafood items at restaurants or markets to be sustainably sourced. These fish are ﬁlter feeders, which means that even when farmed they can help to improve local environments by cleaning up water. Just remember to ask about local contaminant warnings, and in the case of clams, whether they are hand-raked or dredged.
For more information and many more detailed recommendations on specific kinds of seafood to buy, see the Smart Seafood Guide.