Oh Cod, it makes me Eel when people Carp and Whale just for the Halibut...
November 22, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I really, really like fish, but I've been scared off of it for years due to the mercury, PCBs, et al that seem to be present in every fish nowadays, both wild and farmed. Are there still non-polluted/toxic fish to eat? Are there any fish species - or even particular runs or farms or "brands" - that are just, you know, clean?

There are a lot of sites out there talking about what fish are best to eat as far as sustainability, and a lot of "don't eat salmon or tuna more than once a month or you will mutate into a hideous fishman beast" sites, but I haven't been able to find anything saying, "This fish? This fish is awesome and okay! Eat as much as you want!" I know lower-is-better due to how toxins build up (i.e. sardines versus tuna) but I'm hoping there are at least a few big fish out there that aren't swimming timebombs.
posted by curious nu to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I highly recommend Grescoe's Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.
posted by Siena at 10:32 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Flounder, haddock, trout (farmed often has good omega 3s, too), and shrimp are considered to have low mercury, among others. But!

There's risk in most foods, so avoiding something healthy like fish may do more harm than good. The result that always sticks in my mind was a study of fishermen's wives/children near Green Bay, WI. The area had many paper mills, and thus a lot of dioxin pollution. Dioxin is a little like PCBs, but even more toxic at low doses. However, even controlling for a lot of other confounding factors, the families of fishermen tended to be healthier than non-fish families, and the theory was that the many benefits of eating (a lot of) fish outweighed the (considerably higher than in most places) risks.

Now, this isn't universally true. There are hazardous waste sites where fishing/shellfishing shouldn't be allowed, and it drives me a little crazy when someone pulls out the argument that it Should because of all the benefits of fish/shellfish. Even though they sometimes have pretty good science to back them up.

However, as a risk assessor who reads a lot about what gets taken up in to plants and animals, I weigh the evidence for myself and eat fish, including fish such as tuna, on a weekly basis.
posted by ldthomps at 10:41 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia has a good article, with good references.

Look, this isn't actually all that big of a deal. You aren't talking about chronic exposure, and fish considered "high" in mercury are on the orders of 1 part per million. Most of the people who have symptoms of any sort which are directly traceable to mercury contamination in seafood ate an absolute ton of fish, most of which came from waters in the immediate vicinity of a heavy metal polluter by small-time local fishermen.

You are far, far more likely to die on your way home from work today than you are to ever have an identifiable symptom related to this.
posted by valkyryn at 10:55 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

The general rule is younger, smaller fish are safest to eat (e.g. sardines): Here's a helpful chart. http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=17694
posted by xammerboy at 11:04 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lived in a rural part of Japan for 10 years where fishing was one of the main employers.

Basically, any large, long-living fish you eat will contain higher amounts of toxins. Smaller or shorter-living fish will not be as full of toxins. However, the reason why larger, longer-living fish are full of toxins is because they eat vast quantities of smaller fish, and these toxins build up in their bodies over time.

It should be noted that some toxins and heavy metals, such as mercury, already exist in the "natural" environment, and may be present due to things like volcanic eruptions.

Anyway, if you are in North America, it is going to be a real challenge to find fish that are safe to eat, and that are also safe to eat in terms of environmental ethics.

For example, salmon are the perfect fish. They live for about 3-5 years, eat mostly shrimp (which is why they have beautiful red flesh) and are a great source of omega fatty acids. However, most of the salmon you'll find in the supermarket is farmed, either in Norway or Chile, or Canada.

Farmed fish are fed fish meal or fish pellets, and this feed comes from the Peruvian anchovy fishery. This sort of fish feed is ethically irresponsible, because, generally speaking, it is an unwise use of energy - you could feed many more people on a diet of anchovies and sardines than the caloric output of the salmon.

This fishfeed also is highly concentrated, and thus contains higher levels of toxins. So farmed fish is not the answer.

You could always try Tilapia. Tilapia is another farmed fish, but loves vegetable-based feeds. You can get it at your local Asian supermarket, in the frozen fish section.

Mackerel is another nutritious and reasonably ethical seafood. It's sold frozen at many Asian supermarkets. The cons: it is flown in from Iceland and Norway; it's also hard to cook.

Sardines and pilchards are also lovely little fish, but since not many North Americans eat them, they are usually sold for feed or for bait.

Squid is another great fish, but once again it may be difficult to cook or get used to.

Fish to stay away from include sailfish, swordfish, and bluefin tuna. Rockfish (aka Snapper) should be treated cautiously, as many rockfish fisheries are unregulated.

Skipjack, bonito and yellowfin tuna are all considered sustainable fisheries.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Alaskan salmon.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 11:34 AM on November 22, 2010

Here is a chart I found a while back listing health and sustainability information for a whole bunch of common fish and shellfish.
posted by xbonesgt at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2010

Favorited as much for the title as for the content! (Reminds me of how I Lobster and Never Flounder (lyrics)).

CleanFish has a tool on their site you can use to find ... you know, clean fish.
posted by evilmomlady at 12:51 PM on November 22, 2010

Seafood Watch also has a handy (and updated) chart of what fish you can eat.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:09 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

A bunch of info that appears legit from these guys on bogus mercury data , although I admit I am not familiar with the people who run it at the > "Center For Consumer Freedom".
posted by bitterkitten at 1:15 PM on November 22, 2010

Oysters, local crabs and local lobster are also healthy, and come from (nominally) sustainable fisheries.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2010

Alaska Salmon, without a doubt. Salmon specifically labeled as "Copper River" is the best, IMO. They come from this area.

But all the fisheries are really pristine. These salmon spend their lives out on the high seas, living as Neptune intended. I can't imagine any seafood would be safer.
posted by Alaska Jack at 4:58 PM on November 22, 2010

I think you really need to check your original settings for thinking what is clean fish. The problem is a lot smaller and more localised than you seem to believe.

But anyway, big carnivores at the top of the food chain are the ones to avoid.
posted by wilful at 6:02 PM on November 22, 2010

By the way, most canned salmon is from Alaska, and it's not too expensive.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:45 PM on November 22, 2010

Squid! They breed young so they're sustainable, they're usually line caught, so there's no issues with bycatch, and they're low in contaminents. If you've never had fresh well cooked squid, you have NO idea what you're missing. When well cooked it isn't rubbery at all. Depending on where you live it might be hard to get fresh squid, but if you can find it, it's WORTH it!
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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