Dear EarthTalk: How can I find out which seafood to avoid if I am concerned about lessening my impact on the environment and avoiding consuming unhealthy pollutants?
—Pat Kelly, Seattle, WA
Several decades ago a fish-centric diet was considered to be not only healthy but also environmentally friendly. But today those of us who eat a lot of fish may not be doing ourselves or the environment any favor. The two major concerns are overfishing and pollution.
Demand for low-calorie, protein-rich fish has grown tremendously alongside increases in world population. At the same time, the technologies employed for catching seafood have improved to the point that the commercial fishing industry has essentially stripped the ocean of its once teeming fish populations. One recent analysis concluded that only 10 percent of the large predatory fish that once roamed the world’s oceans are left, due to overzealous sport and commercial fishing. Another study concluded that three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are either fully fished or overfished.
Pollution from industrial, agricultural and other everyday activities like electricity generation and automobile driving has also taken a serious toll on the health of the remaining fish species. Scientists routinely find unsafe levels of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and other harsh toxins in the fat, internal organs and even muscle tissue of many different kinds of fish. These contaminants are then passed on up the food chain to our dinner plates.
According to Seafood Watch, a project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works to educate the public about the seafood crisis, consumers can make a difference by getting educated so as to make smart choices about what seafood to avoid. Consumers can download and print out free Seafood Watch pocket guides to the "best choices" across six different regions of the U.S.—after all, what’s abundant and sustainably harvested in your area may not be the same for someone across the country.