The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch offers a list of fish you can enjoy and those you can’t. Many on the list you may or may not enjoy depending on where and how they’re caught. However, there are some you just don’t want to touch. Check out 10 of these tasty fish that you want to let swim in peace.
The Chilean Sea Bass, also known as the Patagonian Toothfish, is a pretty popular fish at the nicer restaurants. However, it’s also one that is not only overfished, but also caught using damaging fishing practices like longlining – which kills sea birds – and bottom trawling – which damages delicate habitat. Plus, the high mercury content is a turn off. So while you might find some recipes that you’d love to try out that call for this fish, substitute it for something like Pacific Halibut or Striped Bass instead.
The Freshwater Eel is better known as Unagi among the sushi lovers, where you can see it draped over the top of a tasty roll covered in a sweet sauce. However, while tempting, you’ll want to skip ordering a roll that features Freshwater Eel. Young eel are caught in the wild and raised on farms, and significantly decreasing the number of young animals in a wild population has sent the species into decline. Not only that, but the method of farming eels pollutes the surrounding areas. This is one sushi option you always want to avoid, but there are sustainable options.
Salmon is known to have some great health benefits and is a wonderful option but only if you’re ordering wild Alaskan. You never want to indulge in farmed Salmon. No matter what your restaurant server says about the farming practices, if they don’t simply say “It’s wild Alaskan,” don’t order it. Farming salmon, as with farming eel, causes pollution in the surrounding environments due to waste and parasites leaking out into the waters next to the farms. Plus, the feeding methods are less than desirable, using fish stocks that put pressure on wild populations or corn, which leads to a paler meat that is then died the pink color consumers recognize. Until more sustainable farming practices are developed, farmed Salmon is on the No list.
This is one ugly fish. Now that you know what it looks like, it might be that much easier to skip ordering it when you see it on menus. Grenadier has a few names, all of which should be avoided: Pacific Roughy, Pacific Grenadier, Giant Grenadier, Shoulderspot Grenadier. The problem is it’s commonly sold as fillets, so you’ll see it pretty often. The issue with these fish is they live long happy lives down at the bottom of the sea, which means they don’t reproduce as often, leaving them vulnerable to overfishing. And because they have deep sea habitats, fishing practices include dangerous longlining and habitat-damaging bottom trawling. Better skip this in favor of US farmed Catfish or Pacific Halibut.
Groupers, or sea bass, are on the avoid list. There are more than 85 species, and Giant Grouper are a favorite fish to see swimming in giant aquarium tanks like those found in Monterey Bay or Long Beach, simply because they’re HUGE! However, grouper species have suffered from overfishing. As with Grenadier, they have long lives and slower reproductive habits, which means their populations take a long time to recover. While you can still get somewhat sustainably caught Grouper in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, even fishing there is due to end in 2011. So be sure to skip over this fish on a menu, and order Alaska Pollock or farmed Rainbow Trout instead.
Monkfish, which also is sold as Goosefish, Anglerfish, or Ankoh, are caught with bottom trawling methods, which we know to be very harsh on habitats. Bottom trawling catches everything in its path, including plants and rock and coral formations that provide needed habitat for hundreds of species. If not being caught via bottom trawling, gill nets are used, which also trap sea turtles and marine mammals. While it is considered a tasty fish, and the liver is considered a delicacy, be sure to pass on this overfished species.
Orange Roughy is considered a yummy meal. However, you never want to indulge. These fish – which also go by the ever so appetizing name “Slimehead” – live to be 100 years old, or older, and don’t reproduce until they’re 20 years old. That means that while more sustainable fishing regulations have been put in to place, we need to wait a long time before the populations recover to a point where we can indulge once in awhile on this popular fish. Until then, it’s on the off limits list.
Sharks, of any species, are in trouble. These ocean predators are being killed in the millions every year – scientists estimate as many as 100 million annually – often to have their fins cut off for soup and the rest of the body tossed right back into the ocean (called shark finning), and also often caught accidentally with gear meant for other fish species. Sharks are vital to maintaining balance in ecosystems, and their numbers are being decimated. If you ever see shark on a menu, don’t eat it. And if you’re tempted, remember that because they’re on the top of the food chain, they contain high levels of mercury.
A lot of Skates are overfished simply by being caught accidentally through bottom trawling. Skates, like a lot of other fish on the don’t-eat list, live long and reproduce slowly, so being overfished means a long recovery time. However, they’re commonly used not only for human consumption but also as bait. Skate is also known as imitation scallop. So if you’re going to eat scallop, make sure it’s not actually a skate.
Flounder, or Sole, caught from the Atlantic ocean is also on the avoid list. While there are a lot of varieties of flatfish in the Atlantic, all of them are off limits simply because they’ve been overfished and need time for their populations to recover. And, being flatfish living on the sands at the bottom of the sea, they’re caught with otter trawling, which disturbs sea floor habitat. If you just have to have sole, go for Pacific varieties. But if possible, skip sole altogether.
Now that you know what you want to avoid, do you want to know what you CAN eat? We have a visual guide to sustainable seafood options so you know which yummy ocean-dwelling critters you can enjoy for dinner. Along with that, you could also add tools to your phone like FishPhone that help you make sustainable choices while on the go.