Poisson de janvier
January 4, 2006 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Should we be eating fish?

On the one hand, fish is good for the brain and keeps older folks' brains from deteriorating; on the other, many species are full of mercury, which will hack divots out of your nervous system; on the gripping hand, trawlers are endangering more and more species.

What's the best approach to balancing out one's sushi cravings with a concern for one's health (omega-3 vs. mercury) and the health of the planet? Are there fish we should leave well enough alone so future generations might get a taste of them?
posted by zadcat to Health & Fitness (32 answers total)
Take omega 3 capsules.
posted by oxala at 4:23 PM on January 4, 2006

Omega 3 capsules are no fun in a california roll. Besides, omega 3 capsules are mostly made of fish, and so come back to the same issue.
posted by zadcat at 4:25 PM on January 4, 2006

Many sushi fish are farmed; different restaurants certainly have different suppliers, so ask your sushi chef where his fish comes from.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:27 PM on January 4, 2006

Follow the Monteray Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Guide. The oceans will thank you.
posted by Ufez Jones at 4:32 PM on January 4, 2006

Dammit, Monterey Bay Aquarium.
posted by Ufez Jones at 4:34 PM on January 4, 2006


While we're on the subject of eating fish, is there a Seafood-Watch-friendly fish that's good for fish newbies? I think I should be eating more fish for general healthiness, but I don't generally like the taste.
posted by frogan at 4:37 PM on January 4, 2006

frogan: Try a bland white fish with a strong sauce if you don't like the taste of something like salmon.

OP: Plenty, plenty of people lived for years on primarily fish, and I don't think there's anything known about them being screwed up. Many more people eat fish regularly, and I doubt many of them show signs of mercury poisoning. Just watch out for too much MSG/salt/artificial flavor etc in sushi and you should be good.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:46 PM on January 4, 2006

Being farmed is no guarantee of safety: farmed salmon is more toxic than the wild stuff, for example.
posted by zadcat at 4:47 PM on January 4, 2006

I find a happy medium by limiting my intake and enjoying the hell out of fish (mmmmm, sushi) when I do eat it. I also avoid eating species I know are floundering, though it seems that is probably a useless gesture considering how most fishing is done.

You're obviously aware that some species tend to collect more mercury. They tell preggies to avoid those and keep it down to 12 oz. per week of the other stuff. Seems like good overall advice for anybody concerned.
posted by moira at 5:03 PM on January 4, 2006

Frogan, the secret is in the freshness of the fish. Lighter fish tend to be more mild. Sushi is incredibly subtle in flavor, if you don't mind the thought of eating raw fish. Omega 3 can be found in other foods, though: flax seeds, walnuts, lots of dark green veggies, and squash, to name a few.
posted by moira at 5:14 PM on January 4, 2006

Sorry, zadcat, didn't realize you were in Canada until now, so the aforementioned guide doesn't have a specific region for you. That said, I would imagine Quebec imports most of its saltwater seafood from the US Northeast (and related Canadian waters), so that might work for you. They also include information on the mercury risk throughout the entire guide.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:15 PM on January 4, 2006

Stick to ocean fish, as lake fish tend to have more pollutants in them. I believe some Ontario Ministry has a guide to eating lake fish.

To avoid mercury, avoid fish that are at the top of the food chain, specifically tuna. Salmon is a good choice, but farmed salmon is often fed pellets made of processed wild fish, inadvertently feeding them larger fish they'd normally never eat, so they're like tune where they're bioaccumulating mercury.

You could just stick to either wild or organically raised salmon.
posted by GuyZero at 5:23 PM on January 4, 2006

Guide to Mercury in Sushi
Guide to Mercury in Fish
The guides recommend staying away from tuna, halibut, bonito, and mackerel (I've seldom seen the less toxic sawara Spanish mackerel anywhere)

Safe fish are wild salmon, eel, shrimp, fish roe/egg, octopus, and shellfish.

Take everything with a grain of salt. Eating tuna from time to time isn't going to kill you but you should think twice about gorging yourself on a tuna sashimi family set. I'm just glad I have an excuse to eat more unagi, mmm.

frogan: I recommend tilapia to everyone. Tilapia is extremely low in mercury, has a light whitefish taste, is dirt cheap, and tastes good in every preparation imaginable.
posted by junesix at 5:31 PM on January 4, 2006

Yes, you should be eating fish and ignoring science journalism.
posted by Captaintripps at 6:06 PM on January 4, 2006

The following articles basically reiterate what everyone else is saying here, but I thought I'd post them anyway:

Fish Tales : Eat More Fish...or Not?
Mercury in Fish: Is it Still Safe to Eat Fish?
posted by invisible ink at 6:07 PM on January 4, 2006

I asked my doctor this question while pregnant. I was referred to a (Canadian) dietician. The dietician gathered various resources and showed me that, when it came to wild salmon, shrimp, shellfish, canned tuna, etc., I had more to gain from eating it than not eating it. She also showed that farmed salmon is not so bad, but that wild is better.

Should I Eat Farmed Salmon? Dieticians of Canada

Health Canada - Food safety and PCBs found in fish

Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Food safety and PCBs found in salmon

I was also given some handouts, which I have probably since recycled. Do you have a dieticians' association in Montreal? In Vancouver, we have Dial-a-Dietician and the dieticians will answer any question you have -- for free.
posted by acoutu at 6:08 PM on January 4, 2006

Ahem. Dietitians. Don't know why I insist on the C.
posted by acoutu at 6:08 PM on January 4, 2006

I second tilapia and raise you some U.S. catfish.
posted by nev at 6:19 PM on January 4, 2006

Does anyone know why they continue to feed farmed salmon ground up food pellets of fish that are high in mercury? Seems that it's well publicized at this point and is keeps millions away from eating the fish on a regular basis. Seems that would be economic reason enough to change wouldn't it?
posted by any major dude at 6:25 PM on January 4, 2006

Good grief, people, this is NOT a difficult question: if you LIKE fish, then eat it. If you DO NOT like fish, then don't.

You can go round-and-round-and-round trying to follow the recommendations of Study XYZ and Scientist PDQ, and then wake up tomorrow to find that Study ABC and Scientist LMN have new evidence that completely contradicts the first two.

Eat what you love. Enjoy it.
posted by davidmsc at 6:36 PM on January 4, 2006

http://www.gotmercury.org is a good way to calculate your mercury intake. The bioaccumulation of mercury increases up the food chain, so you're better off eating fish that eat plants, rather than carnivorous fish.

I personally avoid eating fish (despite my love of sushi) because of the dire things I've heard overfishing. A huge amount of ocean fishing is done by trawling, which ruins ocean ecosystems and kills off many other species that are bycatch.
posted by Orrorin at 6:36 PM on January 4, 2006

frogan: I second the tilapia recommendation. It's a very, very good intro to fish - my boyfriend thinks he hates fish (though he loves sushi - someone explain this?), but every time I get him to taste tilapia he decides it might not be so bad. Try making jerked tilapia - the strong spices will overpower any perceived fishyness.

As for eating fish - everything in moderation. Don't buy a whole swordfish and live off of it for a month, but if you want to eat a piece once in a while you aren't going to die.
posted by gatorae at 6:41 PM on January 4, 2006

Gatorae, he probably likes sushi because of the sugar that is added to the rice and the spiciness added from the wasabi. Could be the reason he likes jerk sauce which is sweet and spicy.
posted by any major dude at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2006

Wild salmon is practically an endangered species. The ethics of eating it are as dubious as eating Chilean Sea Bass, also a (bunch of) species on the way out. Steelhead is almost completely extinct, even Kohoe is under very strong pressure. There are no more wild Atlantic salmon, those that do exist on the east coast of NA are now transplanted Pacific cross-breeds.

I think your concerns about farm salmon are well-founded too though. Tilapia seems to be farmed sustainably, as does rainbow trout in lakes in Ontario. Few good answers for fish lovers, these days, I'm afraid.
posted by bonehead at 7:47 PM on January 4, 2006

Eat fish -- it's good for you, according to the preponderance of evidence. Eat farmed salmon if you want; it's relatively plentiful, and also better for you than whitefish (again, according to the preponderance of evidence). Patagonian toothfish (err, Chilean Sea Bass) is off the menu at better restaurants and should probably be off your menu as well.
posted by killdevil at 7:52 PM on January 4, 2006

I used to be an enthusiastic fish eater, until I learned a bit more about what modern fishing techniques are doing to the world’s oceans (this is a decent read on the subject). I don't think I could stomach seafood anymore even if I wanted to. So my answer would be no, don't eat fish.

For the benefits of Omega3, like others have said, cold-pressed flax seed oil is great.
posted by gooddoggy at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2006

Wild Alaskan salmon is abundant, nothing wrong with eating that. Keeping demand and prices high keeps people invested in protecting the salmon runs up there. Farming fish is really bad for the environment in coastal waters (they have to go and catch fish to feed to the farmed fish so it's inefficent too) and is illegal in Alaska, conincidentally the only state with decent wild runs left. Supporting well managed fisheries (no to Atlantic cod, farmed shrimp, Chilean seabass and anchovies, yes to Alaskan halibut, salmon and some snapper species) in moderation is a good thing as it provides motivation to keep them well managed and productive.

I would question that list of safe fish if it has eel down as a safe one. Eel is very fatty and bioaccumulates quite a lot of stuff. Tasty though.
posted by fshgrl at 10:34 PM on January 4, 2006

I, too, was heading toward becoming a serious fish-eater (having reduced my red-meats intake to near-zero)... and then I started learning about how close we are to destroying the oceans via over-fishing.

The cod banks off Newfoundland were, at the time Europeans were discovering this continent, so packed with fish that they were literally bumping the boats. You could dip a net and haul it in packed with fish. It was the fishy equivalent to downtown Tokyo at rush hour.

Now our fisheries are failing. We've destroyed the stocks. You could dip a net for days and come up empty. It's as crowded as a wheatfield in January.

The situation is basically this: all the great fish stocks -- the cods, the halibuts, the tuna -- are endangered. All the good fish stocks -- the stuff we threw out when we had lots of great fish -- are endangered. And many of the crapfish stocks -- the ugly deepwater bottom feeders -- are endangered.

The *entire* ocean is endangered.

So I've basically quit eating fish as well.

One of the scarier facets of all this is that the elimination of good-sized fish is the elimination of a huge and vital part of the food chain. I don't believe you can eliminate a part of the food chain without causing significant danger to all parts of the food chain. And that includes us. If our oceans go kerplunk, we're fucked.

We humans have been complete shitheads about managing this planet. Especially this last thirty to fifty years, when we really knew that we needed to do better. Guh.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:39 AM on January 5, 2006

If you are a women in childbearing years, I would be even more cautious about mercury and other contaminants than otherwise. This stuff builds up in your system and goes to your child through placenta and breastmilk.

acoutu: She also showed that farmed salmon is not so bad
She is wrong. Even aside from the toxins issue, farmed salmon is full of inflammation causing AA.

I also wouldn't necessarily trust a dietician with this subject.

There are DHA capsules that are made from purified algae (where the fish get there fatty acids from as well).
posted by davar at 2:46 AM on January 5, 2006

Good grief, people, this is NOT a difficult question: if you LIKE fish, then eat it. If you DO NOT like fish, then don't.

The poster specifically asked about the issues being discussed.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:27 AM on January 5, 2006

five fresh fish (an appropos name, no?), you can still pull a huge net of cod off the Grand Banks. Run a line down with a shiny hook on the end and a huge cod will lunge at it. I know, I've done it. Gut and immediately batter with flour and fry for best effect.

Now, there are supply issues to be sure, and a lot of fishermen are still out of work, but cod aren't gone from Newfoundland waters.
posted by killdevil at 8:26 PM on January 5, 2006

Halbiut is not endangered.
posted by fshgrl at 10:20 PM on January 5, 2006

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