Conscientious fish consumption
April 11, 2005 9:01 AM   Subscribe

This weekend, I remembered how much I love to eat fish. Though I'm not really worried about mercury or other pollution, I don't want piles of dead birds or overfishing on my conscience. What should I look for at the fishmonger? Bonus points for less-expensive fish.

Keep your politics to yourself, please.
posted by trharlan to Food & Drink (16 answers total)
(also, widespread availability is a plus)
posted by trharlan at 9:04 AM on April 11, 2005

Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program. It's got a set of regional guides for choosing fish that are fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. The guides also tell you which fish to avoid. They've even got printable pocket versions of the guides to take with you to the fishmonger.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:07 AM on April 11, 2005

And, in general, the fish at a good fishmonger will: smell like the ocean, not like dead fish; have firm flesh that springs back when you press it down; have clear eyes (obviously applies only to whole fish).

I've always been biased toward more expensive places for meat and fish, just because I believe they have fresher, safer products. I would be inclined to stick with cheap fish at an expensive store, if that makes sense, rather than to risk disease or parasites trying to buy tuna or salmon from the cheap places.

But I could just be paranoid.
posted by occhiblu at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2005

Oh, also, if you do shop at someplace like Whole Foods or another environmentally conscious place, they generally only sell fish that comes from reputable, ethical suppliers and is not overfished, etc. In other words, they're not looking only at pollutants but also at fishing practices.
posted by occhiblu at 9:24 AM on April 11, 2005

I eat a fair amount of tilapia - it's found in many simple, delicious Asian recipes, is relatively cheap in Asian markets, and has low environmental impact. High seafood turnover in Asian markets also helps ensure fresher fish.

In addition to occhiblu's advice, also look for: clear, unsunken eyes; bright red gills; shiny and moist but not sticky skin.

For fish suggestions and recipes, here's a recent thread.
posted by junesix at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2005

trharlan since you live in the land of 10,000 lakes; Walleye.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:25 AM on April 11, 2005

I like to buy frozen fish and I like to buy it at Trader Joes. It is flash frozen on processing ships that are close to the fishing fleets. Correctly thawed, either by taking it out of the freezer and placed in the refrigerator the day before you want to eat it, or by putting it in icy cold water for an hour or so if you need it thawed sooner, I find it seems much fresher that "fresh" fish. Lots of fish that is sold as "fresh" has been frozen and then thawed just before it is sold. I like halibut and I seem to remember reading somewhere that the management of the halibut fishing is almost ideal. I hope so.
posted by snowjoe at 10:31 AM on April 11, 2005

We eat fish 3 times a week and I can second snowjoe's Trader Joe's recommendation. I also buy big bags of both Atlantic cod and cooked shrimp at Costco and just use what we need. Oh, and I LOVE halibut - it is my favorite of all fish! However it is rather expensive so we have it as an occasional treat.
posted by Lynsey at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2005

I just wanted to second junesix's recommendation for Tilapia. Due to my budget not affording me the ability to pay for top quality, flown-in-fresh-today fish, and the disgusting nature of seafood at my area grocery stores (not to mention the mercury issue), I had pretty much given up on fish. My husband saw some Tilapia on sale one night and bought it because he'd never heard if it before. It's inexpensive, quite tasty, low to non-existent mercury levels, and generally farm raised. I have seen it in all my area grocery stores, and the quality has always been good ... so I think it's fairly easy to find. I'd describe the taste as being somewhat "nutty", and with a firm white flesh it can be cooked up in a variety of ways. My favorite way to make it though is just pan fried with a little soy sauce for a few minutes. So thanks to Tilapia, I am enjoying fish again.
posted by Orb at 2:17 PM on April 11, 2005


Okay, not really. Whiting is generally inexpensive, easy to find, and not at all endangered. The reason, so far as I can tell, is that it is almost without flavor. It's a very mild, very tender fish. It doesn't grow more than a foot or so.

There's always catfish if you like it. I don't, and it's not seafood, but you should be able to find it cheap and just about anywhere. To me, it tastes like the mud it eats, but some love it.
posted by kc0dxh at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2005

To me, it tastes like the mud it eats, but some love it.
Before frying it, soak the fillets in milk, buttermilk may work best.

Mahi Mahi is good, known as dolphin fish or Dorado, yet sometimes the "fish" part is omitted or not heard giving folks the tale they ate "dolphin."

Also when cooking fish, make sure the proper cooking method is used. You base this on the fish meat's oiliness, lean or fat which will guide its cooking method, skillet or baked. Skillet leaner fish’s meat because it has no or very little oil in it -- bake fattier fish’s meat because it has more oil in it. By looking at the fish's flesh color it can show if it’s a leaner or a fattier meat. The whiter flesh is leaner. The pinker flesh is fattier. Examples; skillet – halibut (leaner, white); bake – salmon (fattier, pink). Adding, fattier fish are healthy for you since they contain omega 3 oils.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:49 PM on April 11, 2005

I heartily second Occhiblu's recommendation of Whole Foods market. I have spent a large part of my career studying fisheries history and current issues, and I have also had the oppotunity to visit Whole Foods' major East Coast supplier at Pigeon Cove in Gloucester, MA, and talk with its proprietor, Steve Parks.

Their practices are having an extremely positive impact on overall East Coast fishing strategies; being honest and treating fishermen fairly, while encouraging responsible, informed sustainable-yield harvesting. I toured the processing facility, and it was the cleanest fish-processing plant I've ever seen (I've seen a few). It didn't smell like old fish, which is a miracle in itself. Many of the workers had been there dozens of years - an indication of sound labor practices. I know this sounds a bit PepsiBlue, but I was truly impressed by what I saw and how different it is from SOP at most wholesalers. Anecdote: While I was talking to Steve dockside, a seagull flew overhead and shat on one of the fish-processing tables, where fish are gutted and headed prior to filleting. Steve cursed in vexation (they had just washed down the tables) and sent a guy for a hose and bucket of disinfectant. Then said "well, you just saw the difference between me and the rest of the wholesalers here. We actually wash the bird shit off the tables before cleaning your fish." Food for thought.

Also, you'll do well environmentally and taste-wise by going with local varieties are fish that are not that well-known to the national market. Blackfish, rockfish, and black sea bass are excellent choices in Southern New England/Long Island Sound. I don't know much about local stuff elsewhere. But I would still recommend that if you've never heard of it and it's local -- at least try it. You;re bound to get something fresh, and it could be incredibly good. It's just that these fish occur in too small quantities, or package and ship too poorly, to become famous. Once a fish becomes everyone's 'must-have', its stock and quality decline. Thus we get the 'snow crab', which used to be a trash fish called 'spider crab' that was thrown overboard when it fouled the traps of King Crab harvesters. Guess what? King Crab runs out, suddenly the marketing geniuses rename 'spider crab' to 'snow crab', and fishermen go after this as a new target species. It's the American fishing story. If you eat fish, you're part of an extractive industry that, by its nature, encourages overharvesting and habitat destruction; that's always been the world's way, and unless there's a tremendous consumer pressure for responsible fish consumption, that won't change. Still, enjoy, man. I love good Atlantic sea scallops.
posted by Miko at 6:25 PM on April 11, 2005

There was an article in gourmet a couple years back that tore a new one in Salmon farming practices. They did, in a sidebar, lay on some praise for catfish farming as an industry that is "doing it right". Catfish, I've found a little oily, but it is also very much like tofu in that it is a sponge for flavor.
posted by plinth at 6:27 PM on April 11, 2005

Yeah. farming is not necessarily an environmentally-conscious improvement over wildcatching. It comes with its own set of problems.

For more than you will ever, ever want to know about fishing, NOAA Fisheries is your place.

Just eat what you like, but spend a few minutes of your time campaigning for sustainable fisheries. Not more regulation; sensible regulation. There's not a lot of point to voting with your dollars at the market; the fishing industry, as it runs at present, is set up to extract every species to its limit. The cheapest fish will always be whatever's most abundant and easily caught. The best fish, which includes the more responsibly caught fish, will always be more expensive.
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on April 11, 2005

Oh, and shrimp is the worst.
posted by Miko at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2005

I just saw this documentary on PBS tonight about sustainable fishing practices. There's some links to a few sources that rank the relative ocean-friendliness of types of seafood.
posted by milkrate at 1:01 AM on April 17, 2005

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