fish to avoid

12 Fish You Shouldn't Eat

Sometimes the easiest way to decipher seafood guidelines is in knowing what NOT to eat. A new guide ID's the bad ones.

By Emily Main


RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Yes fish, no fish, red fish…OK fish? Sometimes deciphering all the seafood recommendations out there can feel a bit like the old Dr. Seuss tale. But the nonprofit Food and Water Watch has just released a seafood guide that it hopes will make it a little easier. "When people find out we work on seafood, the consistent question we get is, What should I eat?" says Marianne Cufone, director of the Fish Program at Food and Water Watch, and one of the researchers of the group's new guide. "Some people choose certain fish because they're more nutritious, others because they have a specific cultural meaning. It's really hard to tell someone what they should or should not eat." So the group compiled a list of the good, the bad, and the absolute worst fish, based on a wider variety of criteria than some of the other seafood lists out there.

Specifically, the researchers looked at problems of overfishing, how certain breeds are farmed, and levels of toxic contaminants like mercury or PCBs in the fish, as well as how heavily local fishermen relied upon fisheries for their economic survival. After several years of researching fisheries worldwide, they came up with a comprehensive list of the best fish to eat, which to avoid, and recommendations for alternatives. As it did its research, the group came up with a list of the 12 fish and seafood types you should never eat—and some are a lot more common on our plates than may be wise.

Here's their list of the "Fishy Dirty Dozen," in no particular order:>

#1: Imported Catfish. Nearly 90 percent of the catfish imported to the U.S. comes from Vietnam, where use of antibiotics that are banned in the U.S. is widespread. Furthermore, the two varieties of Vietnamese catfish sold in the U.S., Swai and Basa, aren't technically considered catfish by the federal government and therefore aren't held to the same inspection rules that other imported catfish are.

Eat this instead: Stick with domestic, farm-raised catfish, advises Cufone. It's responsibly farmed and plentiful, making it one of the best fish you can eat.

#2: Caviar. Caviar from beluga and wild-caught sturgeon are susceptible to overfishing, according to the Food and Water Watch report, but the species are also being threatened by an increase in dam building that pollutes the water in which they live. All forms of caviar come from fish that take a long time to mature, which means that it takes a while for populations to rebound.

Eat this instead: If you really love caviar, opt for fish eggs from American Lake Sturgeon or American Hackleback/Shovelnose Sturgeon caviar from the Mississippi River system.

#3: Atlantic Cod. This one was difficult to add to the "dirty dozen list," says Cufone, because it is so vital to the economic health of New England fishermen. "However, chronic mismanagement by the National Marine Fisheries Service and low stock status made it very difficult to recommend," she says. Atlantic cod stocks collapsed in the mid-1990s and are in such disarray that the species is now listed as one step above endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Eat this instead: The good news, if you love fish 'n' chips, is that Pacific cod stocks are still strong and are one of Food and Water Watch's best fish picks.

#4: American Eel. Also called yellow or silver eel, this fish, which frequently winds up in sushi dishes, made its way onto the list because it's highly contaminated with PCBs and mercury. The fisheries are also suffering from some pollution and overharvesting.

Eat this instead: If you like the taste of eel, opt for Atlantic- or Pacific-caught squid instead.

Published on: September 20, 2010
Updated on: September 21, 2010

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