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Green Tips: Eating Fish Sustainably

Green Tips | February 6, 2020

For millions of people globally, eating fish is a key component of a balanced and healthy diet. Because of its growing popularity, the fishing industry has grown significantly over the years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2012, the commercial fishing industry in the U.S. caught 9.2 billion pounds of seafood. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that global fish consumption trends are exceeding global population growth. 

Recognizing the increasing demand for seafood, it has become even more important for consumers to support sustainable fishing practices. Check out our Green Tips for some things to consider when buying safe and sustainably caught fish.

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood includes those that are caught or farmed in a humane way and that reduce risks to the environment. Sustainable fishing also ensures the social and economic impacts of the sourcing location are considered and mitigated. 

Common practices in the commercial fishing industry include overfishing and species depletion, which have harmful impacts on the marine ecosystem. In addition, the use of certain catching techniques, including dragging or trawling, can damage the seafloor. These are some of the reasons why it’s important for consumers to choose sustainably sourced and harvested seafood.  

How do I find it?

While shopping for seafood, there are a few tools you can use to find the best, most environmentally friendly options. An eco-certification label is the first thing to look for when identifying seafood that meets certain environmental standards. To learn more about the certifications and what these labels mean, check out this Oceana article.

Another way to make sure you’re choosing the right seafood is to use the Monterey Bay Aquarium – Seafood Watch website or their new Seafood Watch app. Through their search tool, you can get detailed information about any fish or seafood species with recommendations for which to buy or avoid. 

There are a number of other seafood buying guides online, including this one by the Natural Resources Defense Council that outlines ways to find seafood options that are safe for you and the environment. One of their tips to avoid fish with high mercury concentrations is to buy smaller fish. Exposure to mercury from eating fish is the number one cause of mercury poisoning in the U.S. The FDA recommends eating two average sized meals of fish per week and avoid eating large predatory fish. Women who are pregnant should also consult the FDA’s guidelines. Check out this resource from Harvard for more information on mercury in fish.

Eating local

In most cases, when eating out or grocery shopping, it is better to opt for locally sourced, seasonal seafood. To find out what is local and seasonal, try asking a restaurant employee, a shop manager, or searching the Seafood Watch app. Choosing local options also helps support your local economy and smaller-scale fisheries. Seafood that does not have to travel hundreds of miles to get to you will be fresher and better for the environment. Before eating locally caught fish, make sure to check if there are any advisories on your local waterways.

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