A Sustainable Fish Guide - How to Choose What Seafood To Eat

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Guide To Eating Fish Responsibly

Why we need a sustainable fish guide to navigate our seafood purcahses

Many of us like clear cut answers. But when it comes to eating fish sustainably, it is a complex matter that deserves contemplation. Eating regenerative foods will benefit your health and the planet's health. But it does require a bit of intentional learning.

Fact: Wild fish populations are being depleted throughout the world’s oceans.

Fact: Wild fish are less prone to disease, free to roam, and in their healthiest most natural habitat.

Fact: Farmed fish are more prone to disease, often necessitating antibiotics and pesticides.

Fact: The antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants involved with concentrated farmed fish populations may end up contaminating our oceans and waterways.

Fact: Innovations in aquaculture can minimize contamination and pollution, and protect wild populations of marine life.

One can see why it isn’t always easy to determine if you should be consuming farmed or wild fish. True regenerative foods will revitalize both your body and the planet, so proper sourcing is a must.

Either way, diversifying one's consumption of fish will put less pressure on fewer species. Additionally, eating domestic, wild fish caught in season from small local fishermen will mean that you are sourcing from fisheries that are under strict and responsible management. Eating fish seasonally allows species’ to reproduce and naturally maintain a healthy population.

So what does a responsible consumer need to know?

Fish Icon 1548772 What wild fish species are either endangered or vulnerable? 

Fish Icon 1548772 What are the different methods of catching wild fish and what are their environmental implications?

Fish Icon 1548772 What are the different methods of farming fish (aquaculture), and what are the environmental implications?

Fish Icon 1548772 Ways to diversify their fish consumption.

Fish Icon 1548772 The overall state of the ocean’s health

    Let’s take a look at some of the most common fish we consume:


    Fish Icon 293733 Generally considered a sustainable option, when not sourced from China.

    Fish Icon 293733 Look for: U.S caught or farmed

    Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Farmed in China or Vietnam

    Fish Icon 293733


      Fish Icon 293733 Two main species available for consumers: Atlantic and Pacific

      Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Atlantic Cod farmed via recirculating tanks with wastewater treatment, or Wild Pacific Cod from Alaska

      Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Pacific cod from Japan or Russia is vulnerable, wild caught Atlantic Cod is considered vulnerable and recuperating from extensive overharvesting.

      Fish Icon 293733


        Fish Icon 293733 Bottom dwellers of the North Pacific and Atlantic oceans 

        Fish Icon 293733 In the flounder family

        Fish Icon 293733 Atlantic halibut fisheries are extremely depleted, and considered an endangered species

        Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Farmed indoor in recirculating tanks, or handline California halibut

        Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Atlantic caught or Mexican caught


          Fish Icon 293733 Native to the Indo-Pacific region, and now a troublesome invasive species found in the Carribean and East Coast of the U.S

          Fish Icon 293733 A sustainable solution to prevent the invasive species from spreading further is to eat them

          Fish Icon 293733 Look for: U.S caught lionfish

          Fish Icon 293733


            Fish Icon 293733 Found throughout the world in tropical and subtropical oceans, like the gulf of California, and off shore in the Atlantic from New Jersey to Florida. 

            Fish Icon 293733 Look for: U.S Atlantic caught - handlines, trolling lines, hand operated pole-and-lines

            Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Imported


              Fish Icon 293733 All wild caught, never farmed

              Fish Icon 293733 Not considered the most environmentally friendly fish option

              Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: There are no sources of pollock that are considered a great choice. Seek out other options

              Fish Icon 293733


                Fish Icon 293733 Refers to almost 100 species, mostly found in the kelp forests of Central to Northern Pacific

                Fish Icon 293733 Overall an environmentally friendly choice.

                Fish Icon 293733 Look for: caught in the U.S

                Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Canadian & British Colombia caught

                Fish Icon 293733


                  Fish Icon 293733 The most commonly eaten fish in the U.S

                  Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Farmed with recirculating tanks with wastewater treatment, wild caught pink or sockeye with lift nets from Northeast Pacific (Washington, or Alaska), or New Zealand sourced

                  Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Atlantic salmon is endangered, Salmon from Norway, Chile, or Scotland. Chinook from the Puget Sound

                  Fish Icon 293733


                    Fish Icon 293733 There are many different types of sea bass

                    Fish Icon 293733 Chilean sea bass is not a true sea bass, and is endangered.

                    Fish Icon 293733 Giant sea bass off the coast of California is also endangered

                    Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Farmed seabass - especially from recirculating tanks that treat wastewater

                    Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Giant Californian seabass, chilean sea bass, and black sea bass from Florida or the Gulf of Mexico

                    Fish Icon 293733


                      Fish Icon 293733 Snapper includes a variety of fish including Red Snapper, Yellowtail, Mutton, Blackfin, and Gray

                      Fish Icon 293733 Confusingly, some fish is sold as snapper, that isn’t truly snapper

                      Fish Icon 293733 Look for: U.S caught

                      Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Most imported snapper

                      Fish Icon 293733 Read More >> 


                        Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Handline or hand operated pole-and-line caught in Pacific or North Atlantic

                          Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Imported caught with drift gillnets or longlines

                          Fish Icon 293733 Read More >> 


                            Fish Icon 293733 Native to Africa, though now farmed throughout the world

                            Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Farmed via recirculating tanks with wastewater treatment, raceways or ponds. Best sourced from U.S, Peru, Ecuador, Canada

                            Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Sourced from China

                            Fish Icon 293733


                              Fish Icon 293733 Mostly freshwater dwelling group of fish, with 11 species in the U.S

                              Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Wild caught Minnesota, U.S farmed, or globally farmed with recirculating tanks with wastewater treatment

                              Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: Farmed in Colombia, Wild caught in Wisconsin

                              Fish Icon 293733 Watch >>


                                Fish Icon 293733 Found throughout the world’s oceans. Most are found in the tropics, though albacore and bluefin are also found in temperate waters. 

                                Fish Icon 293733 15 different species, many of which are endangered or vulnerable

                                Fish Icon 293733 Look for: Albacore or Skipjack from trolls or pole-and-lines

                                Fish Icon 293733 Avoid: All bluefin is critically endagered, yellowfin (ahi) from imported longlines, and skipjack form imported purse seines

                                Fish Icon 293733 Watch >> 

                                  Other commonly eaten fish to avoid:

                                  Fish Icon 293733 Atlantic Cod - unless you are sure it was caught by handlines or hand operated pole-and-lines

                                  Fish Icon 293733 European anchovies

                                  Fish Icon 293733 Orange roughy 

                                    Other commonly eaten fish that are environmentally friendly options:

                                    Fish Icon 293733 Any fish that is farmed in indoor recirculating tanks that treat wastewater

                                    Fish Icon 293733 Sole from the west coast

                                    Fish Icon 293733 Arctic Char from Canada’s Cambridge Bay, or farmed in raceways from U.S, Canada, or Iceland

                                    Fish Icon 293733 Sanddabs from the west coast

                                    Fish Icon 293733 Wahoo from the U.S Atlantic coast caught by pole-and-line, handlines, or trolling lines

                                      Fishing Techniques

                                      Gillnets & Seines: 

                                      Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

                                      Fish Icon 3062620 Both of these methods involve using large nets to capture a mass of fish at one time, intended for schools of fish.

                                      Fish Icon 3062620 Cons: Catching so many fish at one time often leads to overfishing. Gillnets have a very high chance for bycatch - making it not environmentally sound

                                        Bottom Trawling & Dredges:

                                        Photo: Fix.com "The Three Biggest Threats To Global Fisheries"

                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Both methods involve dragging equipment along the ocean floor

                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Cons: damages the ocean bed, high chance for by catch, damages coral reef systems and leads to overfishing 

                                        Fish Icon 3062620 If there is one thing you learn in this sustainable fish guide - let it be that you should AVOID supporting this type of fishing.

                                          Midwater Trawls:

                                          Fish Icon 3062620 Pros: no damage to ocean floor as compared to bottom trawls.

                                          Fish Icon 3062620 Cons: high chance for bycatch, leads to overfishing, can catch at-risk species, can harm sea birds

                                          Fish Icon 3062620 Avoid when possible

                                            Trolling Lines and Pole & Line:

                                            Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

                                            Fish Icon 3062620 Both methods involve bait on hooks on fishing lines.

                                            Fish Icon 3062620 Pole-and-line is generally one hook per line, while trolling lines are lined with many hooks.

                                            Fish Icon 3062620 Pros: The lines get pulled relatively quick once there is a bite, and the unwanted bycatch can be released into the ocean with little harm. Overall, this method is much less invasive and damaging than trawling and dredges. Hand operated lines, especially, do not lead to overfishing.


                                              Fish Icon 3062620 Baited hooks dote these lines that are often miles long - up to 62 miles!

                                              Fish Icon 3062620 Cons: The bait used can lure at risk animals like endangered sea turtles. Overall, not a very sustainable method for catching fish. Contributes to overfishing.

                                                Handlines & Jigs:

                                                Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

                                                Fish Icon 3062620 An often environmentally sound way to catch prized species.

                                                Fish Icon 3062620 Fishermen from small boats lure fish with a baited hook and by moving the jig around.

                                                Fish Icon 3062620 PROS: Small chance for catching unwanted species. Little to no environmental disruption.

                                                  Farming Techniques (Aquaculture):


                                                  Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

                                                  Fish Icon 3062620 Fish are more susceptible to disease.

                                                  Fish Icon 3062620 Antibiotics, pesticides, sewage, and other toxic ingredients pollute the ocean

                                                  Fish Icon 3062620 Used to raise salmon, fresh and saltwater trout, tilapia


                                                    Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

                                                    Fish Icon 3062620 Often the waste water leaves the facility and pollutes surroundings.

                                                    Fish Icon 3062620 In recirculating raceways, water is treated and reused and does not enter nor contaminate the surrounding environment.

                                                    Fish Icon 3062620 Used with salmon and rainbow trout

                                                      Recirculating Tanks

                                                      Photo: Ausfish Aquaculture

                                                      Fish Icon 3062620 Water is treated and recirculated for continual use so no environmental contamination occurs.

                                                      Fish Icon 3062620 Used with salmon, arctic char, striped bass, sturgeon

                                                      Fish Icon 3062620 A very environmentally friendly way to farm fish


                                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Ponds were traditionally built near natural bodies of water.

                                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Crowded shrimp and fish are often fed antibiotics

                                                        Fish Icon 3062620 The dirty and polluted water from the ponds used to be released into the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine life and destroying over 30% of the world’s mangroves. Mangroves are a critical ecosystem that many species depend on for food and habitat.

                                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Advances in shrimp farming and pond aquaculture have been put into effect in some instances. More advanced systems include above ground, closed loop systems that do not contribute to contaminating our waterways. Water is treated and used for multiple cycles.

                                                        Fish Icon 3062620 Used for shrimp, tilapia, and catfish

                                                          The future is aquaculture

                                                          Photo: The Nature Conservancy

                                                          The future of fish consumption is rooted in aquaculture. The demand for fish and shellfish simply cannot be met in a sustainable manner with only wild caught populations. Innovative technologies and sustainable systems will create aquaculture methods with minimal ecological footprint. There is already so much ingenuity within the field of sustainable aquaculture, with methods ranging from “marine permaculture” to systems in which fish waste is turned into a usable energy source. 


                                                          While we'd all love a clear cut, black and white answer to conclude our sustainable fish guide, it is a grey area with many nuances. What it comes down to is this - there are sustainable ways to catch wild fish or to farm fish, and there are harmful ways to do either as well. Make sure to be aware of what fish species you consume, and how it was caught or farmed. By rotating between a wider range of species, and by eating seasonally, you can have a smaller ecological footprint. 

                                                           Do what you can to support ocean conservation: 

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Eliminate single-use plastic.

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Wear reef-safe sunblock.

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Play in, and honor the oceans.

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Understand the interconnectedness between healthy forests and healthy oceans - check out this informative blog post.

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Refer back to this sustainable fish guide when you are purchasing seafood.

                                                          Fish Icon 1548772 Eat more perennial plants! They require less pesticides, less fertilizers and less water, meaning our planet stays healthier. 

                                                            Eat regenerative foods that reverse climate change

                                                            Get our FREE seasonal cookbook for recipes that use perennial plants & edible trees.

                                                            Fish Icon 1548772 Monterey’s Bay Seafood Watch for a very thorough and well-researched analysis of the global fisheries.

                                                              Fish Icon 1548772 Download the app Seafood Watch for tips on how to eat fish sustainably while you are out at the grocery store or a restaurant. 

                                                                Fish Icon 1548772 Documentaries to watch: Artifishal, The Cove, Sharkwater, The End of the Line

                                                                  Fish Icon 1548772 Stay tuned for our Guide to Eating Shellfish Responsibly. (And until then, avoid farmed shrimp from Asia if you want to stick to regenerative foods!)


                                                                    All fish illustrations and research is from Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch.

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