I love fish. I’m an unabashed, unapologetic omnivore, and I have no desire to cut fish out of my diet. Trouble is, between PCBs and other contaminants on the one hand, and overfishing devastating future fish populations on the other, it’s hard making educated decisions about how to get some yummy fish to the table on a regular basis.
Our first stop is the Seafood Watch program offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have guides available for all areas of the US, and you can even get apps for mobile searching on your iPhone or Android device. Their guides (whether browsed on their web site or in the printed guide, or browsed via the mobile app) can help you identify which varieties of fish are the best to get, from both a health and viability perspective.
For example, I love salmon. But, up here in New England, the most common salmon you can get your hands on is the Atlantic salmon. At this point, these salmon are all farmed, and there are known issues with the PCB content (high levels of contaminants in the fish) and with dumping of farm waste directly into the ocean. So, Atlantic salmon is pretty much off our menu until something big changes. Sockeye salmon is still okay, and anything that’s labeled as “long line caught” is often more sustainably fished.
Not sure if your fish at the grocery store or fish market has been sustainably fished? Best thing to do is to ask. If the fishmonger isn’t sure, or is cagy, then the odds are that they weren’t. Our grocery store has gotten A LOT better about trying to acquire sustainable fish, and they are in the process of overhauling their entire fish program to eliminate sales of any non-sustainable fish. Lest you think that I have to go to a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or other specialty grocer to get this…let me assure you, I go to a mass-market grocery store. A chain, even! (gasp) My point is, it’s possible to get fish that you won’t have to feel guilty about – and an ounce of education on this may ensure that you can continue to have yummy fish for a longer stretch in the future.
Other issues that parents often run into with fish: bones and mercury. Bones are easy enough to avoid if you remember to purchase fillets; fish steaks often have bones in them (although larger fish, like tuna or steak, would have bones that are large enough to be more easily spotted and avoided). For mercury, the key issue there is that adults can handle the mercury in fish far more easily than kids can; mercury poisoning in a kid can create developmental problems in addition to illness. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) came out with some nice recommendations about what to do with respect to fish and mercury a few years ago, and the advice is still good. Note that their recommendations apply to pregnant or nursing women, as well as young children.
So, the bottom line is that you can have sustainable fish, healthy fish, and generally guilt-free fish as part of a healthy diet for you (and your kids), with only a modest amount of up-front research.
Remember to consult with your doctor or your pediatrician if you have any concerns about adding/increasing fish in your diet, and certainly take plenty of precautions if you have family allergies to fish and/or shellfish.