Well+Good’s buzzkill guide to sustainable fish

Say sayonara to sushi, or at least make it an occasional treat.

Slow Food savant and former sushi lover, Jerusha Klemperer plumbs the depths to bring us this sustainable food guide. She may be a Cassandra of the deep, but this is bad news we need to heed.

A nice piece of grilled fish is supposed to be the healthy menu option! A few pieces of tuna sushi were just what the doctor ordered right? With fears about mercury levels in fish, concern about seafood from China, and news of the impending extinction of the Bluefin tuna (the yummy one) due to overfishing, many of us have seafood anxiety on the brain. It can be hard to make sense of everything you hear when you’re trying to navigate your health and the health of our seas.

Do’s and Don’ts

No Bluefin Tuna, no way no how (that means no toro either). It’s the most desired kind of sushi and sashimi, and as a result, it’s been fished to near extinction—stocks have dropped by about 60 percent in the past 13 years. Scientists predict a complete disappearance if consumption continues at this pace. I know it’s hard to give up something you love, but you did it with Chilean Seabass, you can do it now, too.

Instead: Try albacore tuna (shiro maguro); it tastes similar and is the a best choice when it’s troll caught in the U.S. or Canada.

Don’t buy shrimp. I love shrimp—it’s healthy, and really versatile in the kitchen. I used to buy those giant frozen bags and put them to good use in stir fries and pasta dishes. Have you ever looked at the bag from a country of origin label? It’s all coming abroad, most of it from China, Thailand, and Chile, and it’s being raised and caught in ways that would make your stomach turn. The shrimp is full of chemicals and antibiotics, and they’re poisoning eaters as well as the surrounding water.

Instead: Buy wild, US shrimp. You can go to the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market or on Bleecker Street and get Gulf Shrimp that’s never even been frozen. It’s expensive, but worth it. Another option is that some Maine shrimp CSAs have been popping up, including Port Clyde Fresh Catch. By the way, the difference in taste between these guys and the bagged frozen stuff is HUGE.

Rules to Eat By

Go Wild:  In general wild fish caught in a sustainable way is a much better bet than farmed fish. Since it’s hard to understand exactly what the scoop is with each farmed fish operation (some are okay for human health and the ecosystem, but many aren’t), go wild!

plate of sushi
Say sayonara to sushi, or at least make it an occasional treat

Eat sushi no more than once a month: As Cookie Monster says about cookies, sushi should be “a sometimes food.” When you do go, try to be mindful as you order. It’s hard to know what’s sustainable and what’s not when you head to a sushi restaurant, since so much depends on how the fish was caught—information that’s not usually available on a menu. How to tell?

Download the Seafood Watch list: It’s the best way to know what not to eat. Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch web site and download a copy of their Seafood Guide. Carry it in your wallet or get the iPhone app, and use it next time you go for sushi.

Ask your waiter questions: The only way that chefs will know that we care about how our seafood was caught and where it comes from is if we speak up. If enough people start asking about origins, the restaurants will take notice—they already have, in some cases. As ever, Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Back Forty is a leader in sustainability. Further evidence that sustainable seafood is the wave of the future? Check out Mark Bittman’s coverage  of a guy offering himself as a fish sustainability consultant.

Fishmonger in a market
Make friends with your local fishmonger

Ask your fishmonger questions, too: At the farmers markets in the city (the ones run by Greenmarket) you can shop with confidence, since these vendors have to meet fairly strict guidelines. At Whole Foods, it’s a mixed bag—read the signs, ask questions, and hope you’re getting a straight answer. But they are better than most! Also, Trader Joe’s just committed to getting themselves totally sustainable on the seafood front by 2012. If you know of other fish places, like the above-mentioned Lobster Place, that have a few sustainable options, let us know in the comments section below.

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