Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Fish, Two Fish

Red fish, blue fish. The classic Dr. Seuss book for children. Simple! Unfortunately, it's complicated buying fish these days. Today Dr. Seuss would have to add "good fish, bad fish" to his rhymes.

salon.com: Drop that salmon!
With the days of indiscriminate fish consumption long gone, food writer Taras Grescoe explains how to eat seafood ethically. (Hint: Order mussels; skip shrimp.)
(You have to watch an ad to read; questions are in bold)

OK, so we can eat sardines, anchovies ...

Oysters, pollock -- it's got a terrible name, but that's the stuff that goes into [McDonald's] Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. It's very abundant. There's trout, which isn't a bad fish. Sablefish and Arctic char are currently quite abundant. I love herring, and there's herring off the Pacific Coast as well. Try to the best of your ability to buy things locally.

And which big fish are we supposed to stay away from?

Avoid big predator fish -- shark, swordfish, Chilean sea bass, tuna, with the exception of skipjack, which is pretty abundant light tuna. Avoid farmed carnivorous species like shrimp, salmon and bluefin tuna.
Avoid imported farmed seafood because domestic standards are a lot higher. The exception to that is [domestically farmed] salmon, which is terrible.

Can you explain what's so bad about salmon farms?

Salmon from these farms tends to be full of persistent organic pollutants, [some of which] are highly carcinogenic. Salmon farmers grind up smaller fish like anchovies, sardines and anchoveta to make the pellets -- all of which should be going to feed humans, not making deluxe fish, especially in the context of food riots -- and salmon farms have been proven to spread disease and parasites like sea lice to wild fish populations, among them sea trout in Ireland and wild salmon in British Columbia.

Some farmed fish aren't so bad: trout and Arctic char, which are raised inland so there's no risk of spreading parasites to wild fish; tilapia and carp, which are herbivorous species; and of course oysters and mussels, which actually help clean the oceans of their excess plankton.

So is there a way we can safely enjoy salmon?

If you want to make a canned salmon sandwich or something like that, look for any can that has Alaska stamped on it. They should be all over. It's fantastic for you, and it's really clean protein. Don't buy Atlantic salmon. That's definitely farmed, because Atlantic salmon is commercially extinct right now. Those that appear in streams and rivers are actually escaped fish from salmon farms. Chinook and certain runs of salmon in California and Oregon are doing really badly this year. Nobody's quite sure what's going on -- it could be dams, fertilizer, ocean conditions. In British Columbia, they're not doing as well either, but Alaskan stocks are pretty good. And there's organic farmed salmon. I want to give those guys some credit. If you go to a restaurant and the menu says "organic farmed salmon," then the fish was raised under higher standards and it's probably better for you. The question is whether the fish are still spreading parasites to other fish. You can eat that in sort of "half-conscience." It's important to realize that right now about 45 percent of the seafood we get is farmed. And this is having a huge impact on the livelihood and well-being of people in other cultures. In the book I talk about how salmon farms affect native people in British Columbia and people who are affected by shrimp farms in India.

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