The Fish List

It’s the middle of summer and there’s nothing tastier than some lovely fresh fish. But wait – aren’t fish bad for you now? Or are they good for you again? And some of them have been overfished, haven’t they? And what about pollution?

Buying fish can be a confusing process. Besides obvious concerns about taste, freshness and price, we now have a plethora of other issues to worry about. Is the fish contaminated with PCBs? Is it being overfished or does the manner in which it is fished contribute to destruction of the oceans or the environment? What about farmed fish versus wild fish? And how the heck is the average consumer supposed to know any of this?

The fact is, it’s hard to buy fish without some kind of guide. Farmed salmon is bad, farmed catfish is good. Cod from Alaska is fine, while Atlantic cod is almost non-existent. Farmed mussels are good, while wild ones may be contaminated. Imported shrimp contribute to the destruction of lands in India and Thailand, not to mention the unnecessary deaths of a variety of sea creatures who get caught in the trawlers.

So what’s the solution, other than to start cutting your organic tofu into fish shapes and swear off real fish completely? You know what would be a really great? A nifty pocket-sized list of which fish are good and which fish are bad.

Enter the Fish List.

The Fish List is a compilation of three seafood advisories from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Environmental Defense and Ocean’s Alive. All three organizations post a “best and worst” list on their respective website (plus a lot more information, so check out the links!), and the Fish List puts it all together.

Basically, it’s a quick and easy reference that you can use when purchasing fresh or frozen fish, or when ordering fish in restaurants. The website gives detailed information on why most fish are good or bad, so it’s easy to know if you’re making wise choices. And while all three individual lists, and the compiled Fish List, are based on environmental concerns and sustainability practices, it’s interesting to note that most of the fish that end up on the “bad” list tend to be the fish that are most polluted with toxins – the fish that we should all be avoiding for health reasons.

The only downside to the Fish List is that it still requires the customer to ask the hard questions of their fishmonger or restaurant server. To properly assess whether you’re buying good fish or bad fish, you need to have information on where your fish came from and how it was raised. Some restaurants have voluntarily opted to remove at-risk items, such as Chilean Sea Bass, from their menus, but it’s also important to ask, and check the answer you get against the list. To check for restaurants and fish sellers in your area who sell or serve fish from the “good” column of the Fish List (and avoid fish from the “bad” column”) check out the website of the Seafood Choices Alliance.

Paying attention to the type of fish we eat now means a better supply of safe, healthy and tasty fish for decades to come.