What Seafood is Safe to Eat?



Many of us view fish as an exceptionally healthy form of protein, chockful of nutrients and delicious in flavour – on the surface seafood seems to be a superfood. However, for many fish on the market, this is frequently not the case. Due to fish farming, radiation levels, and other environmental hazards many fish are unsafe for us to eat and may contain chemicals, which are dangerous to the body. Additionally, the present production levels of fish farming are harmful to the ocean’s ecosystem. This article aims to help you learn more about the fishing industry and what fish should be consumed to help support both your health and the environment.

Dangers of Fish Farming

Aquaculture, or fish farming, accounts for 40 percent of the fish eaten today. In intensive aquaculture, fish are fed external food supplies to sustain the populations of fish farms. Unfortunately this has led to some negative consequences.

Firstly, much of the external food supplies fed to fish contains a large amount of antibiotics and pesticides. This results in fish which have lower nutrient levels and 16 times the amount of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) as wild fish. PCBs are just one of the many chemicals found in fish farmed seafood. The health consequences of these chemicals are alarming, to say the least. Various chemicals found in farm fish are attributed to allergies, asthma, obesity, metabolic and immune disorders, and have also been linked to cancer. Farmed fish contain large amounts of Omega-6. Not to be confused with healthy Omega-3, large consumption levels of Omega-6 can lead to heightening inflammation in the body.

In addition to being detrimental to human health, fish farming has negatively impacted the ocean’s ecosystem. External food supplies fed to the farmed fish consist of fishmeal, which is produced using fish that are lower on the food chain than those being bred in farms. For example tuna and salmon are “tigers” of the ocean–higher on the food chain than most fish. When fish farms disproportionately and exclusively produce tigers they deplete the ocean of fish that are lower in the food chain. This can ruin the delicate balance of ocean life and lead to a lack of food supply for wild fish.

Steps have been taken by conservationist organizations like the World Wildlife Foundation to negate the effects of fish farming. They have been successful in lowering the levels of fishmeal produced, however the fish farming industry has continued to grow and this thwarts any real moves toward progress. Fish farming practices are producing unsafe fish to eat as well as threatening the balance of the oceans eco system.

Environmental Hazards

Fish farming is not the only thing threatening the ocean’s ecosystem and seafood’s nutritional safety. Man-made disasters have also polluted the water in important coastal fishing regions. The levels of radiation present in Japan’s water after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant have raised a great deal of concern. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic institute in Massachusetts studied sushi fish from Japan and uncovered that “every single fish.. analyzed had clear evidence of Fukushima-derived radionuclides in their tissue.”

The levels of radionuclides was unsubstantial in some, however, but bottom feeders such as flounder were deemed inedible for consumption. Effects from the 2010 BP gulf oil spill off the southern coast of the United States continue to negatively impact seafood quality. The spill has led to smaller and less abundant petroleum-laced seafood. The damage to the gulf’s ecosystem cannot be understated, which includes tremendous damage to oyster beds in the region.

A very recent oil spill in British Colombia Canada has threatened its pristine waters and wild salmon. It is certainly the case that man made disasters have put a large amount of the ocean’s wild seafood resources in jeopardy.

So What Seafood is Safe?

So now that we have looked over a handful of the threats to seafood quality, how can we be sure to know that those we eat are safe? Though up to this we have painted a grim outlook on the health safety of seafood, we hope not to discourage you from eating it all together. Healthy seafood is in fact, incredibly good for you. When we eat healthy fish we receive a great host of omega3, protein, vitamins and minerals. Healthy fish consumption has been proven to help lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, arthritis, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study from Arizona State University has proven that “healthy seafood is also sustainable”. Monterey Bay Aquarium has compiled a list of “Super Green” varieties which include: “freshwater coho salmon (U.S. and B.C.), farmed oysterswild-caught Pacific sardinesfarmed rainbow trout and wild-caught salmon (Alaska)“, as well as “Farmed Arctic char, wild-caught Dungeness crab (California, Oregon, Washington), farmed mussels and wild-caught longfin squid (U.S. Atlantic), [which] are also good choices, but provide smaller amounts of omega-3s.”

Arizona State University’s study has categorized seafood options into three levels: green, red, and grey. Green options are the healthiest and most sustainable, red lies in the middle, and grey options should be avoided. For the sake of convenience we have copied their list of green and red seafood options. Please use this list for your reference when shopping for seafood.

  • Green choices: Low mercury, high sustainability
  • Pacific herring (B.C.)
  • Red king crab (Bristol Bay)
  • Pacific cod (Alaska/B.C.)
  • Tanner crab (US Bering Sea)
  • Atlantic pollock (Northeast Arctic/New England)
  • Alaskan pollock (Eastern Bering Sea)
  • Atlantic mackerel* (Northeast Atlantic)
  • American plaice (New England)
  • Canary rockfish (US Pacific coast)
  • Black rockfish (US Pacific coast)
  • Yellowfin sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
  • European anchovy* (South Africa)
  • Rock sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
  • Pacific Ocean Perch (Alaska/US Pacific Coast)
  • Ocean perch (Newfoundland)
  • Alaska plaice (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
  • Flathead sole (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
  • Skipjack tuna (Central Western Pacific)
  • Arrowtooth flounder (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands)
  • English sole (US Pacific coast)
  • Indicate good sources of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Red choices: High mercury, low sustainability
  • Bluefin tuna (Eastern Atlantic)
  • Yellowtail flounder (Georges Bank)
  • Swordfish (Mediterranean)
  • Spanish mackerel (US South Atlantic)
  • Gag grouper (US Gulf of Mexico)

We hope that this blog has helped to better inform you on the dangers of fish farming, both to the environment and your own health. It is certain that many challenges will continue to emerge which will threaten the successful production of sustainable healthy seafood. Studies like those from ASU help us to confirm that sustainable practices aren’t just good for our earth but our bodies health as well. When we make responsible choices as consumers we help to save the earth and protect the Ocean’s delicate ecosystems.


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