Valerie Vander Berg: Is Seafood Safe?
Brian Kelly Photography
Valerie, a self-described sushi addict, used to serve a lot of seafood at home until an innocent airport bookstore purchase
changed everything. “I learned that what I was eating wasn’t healthy for my family or the earth,” she says of her take-away
from reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. The book aroused concerns about the conditions of farmed fish and sustainability, so the family cut back their fish consumption
from twice a week to twice a month. “Sustainable, ecofriendly fish cost a lot more than the six-dollar bag of shrimp from
who knows where,” she says.
The only way to sort out seafood sustainability is to find ways to make it simpler. Luckily, there are lots of them.
- Let Cooking Light help. Look for our green fish icon in each issue. It lets you know a recipe calls for fish or seafood with healthy populations
that are caught (or raised) by environmentally friendly means. We also provide sustainable substitutions in case the recipe’s
recommended fish isn’t readily available.
- Keep knowledge on hand. Download the free Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app, and know instantly before you buy or eat if a fish is ecofriendly. No smart phone? Visit montereybayaquarium.org to download a printable pocket guide that’s keyed to your region so you can choose the ecofriendliest seafood. The guides
are updated every six months.
- Be sushi smart. Good news for Valerie and other sushi hounds: The Monterey Bay Aquarium phone app features a sushi guide, too. Both versions
alert you to fish that might have high levels of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. And there is a movement among sushi
chefs to emphasize sustainable fish: Seek out such chefs, and reward them with your business.
- Be label literate. Many seafood sellers are working to raise awareness about the need for sustainable, ecofriendly fishing and the importance
of not purchasing seafood on the endangered list. That’s great, but it does have one downside: a glut of ecolabels that can
make for confusion at the seafood counter. When you’re grocery shopping and you’ve forgotten your Monterey Bay Guide, look
for these two labels: Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Sea. Fish and seafood with these labels come from certified
sustainable and well-managed fisheries.
- Branch out. Most people fall into a habit of selecting only familiar fish varieties. If your favorite is on the “avoid” list or you’re
just looking for something new, use the pocket guide or phone app to find better choices.
- If in doubt, make another choice. Generically labeled fish, such as “tuna,” may be sustainable or may be an endangered species or from overfished waters. Read
the label for species type, and where, when, and how it was fished or raised. If that information is not there, look for a
more ecofriendly option that is clearly labeled.