Over the past few decades, the marine population has experienced a rapid decline due to environmental impacts like overfishing and water pollution. To save over-exploited fish populations, researchers at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and other experts have recommended the most sustainable fish we can consume.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of sustainable fish you can eat or pick up from a grocery store’s fish counter. And we also explained what makes these food choices greener.
What should you consider if you’re looking for the most sustainable types of seafood? Here are three main factors you should consider when making seafood choices:
Much of the food we consume, including seafood, travels miles from one part of a country to another before it gets to our plates.
Between 70% and 85% of seafood in the United States comes from countries like Canada, India, Indonesia, Chile, and China.
To ensure that fresh fish stays edible, fishermen carry the fish on ice, a method that requires natural resources and energy that can affect our environment. A better alternative to reduce carbon footprint is canned fish or frozen fish. Locally sourced seafood will also have minimal environmental impact.
Here, you want to consider how fish farmers raised and caught your seafood. Typically, seafood falls into one of these categories: farm-raised or wild-caught. Both categories come with their pros and cons.
Some people may applaud farmed fish species because they save seafood populations. In contrast, others may think of wild-caught fish as cleaner and healthier for the environment. You want to research the sustainability of the type of seafood you’re interested in.
Having a more varied diet can help protect the ocean’s biodiversity. If people stick to specific types of fish like cod, prawns, shrimp, and tuna, it will put more pressure on those fish stocks and push fishing industries to adopt more damaging fishing methods to meet the demand.
You can make little changes to your seafood diet. So, instead of tuna, you can swap it for sardines. Perhaps you love sockeye salmon? Why not consider King salmon instead?
Generally, you also want to look out for certifications from organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). These groups' main goals are to save wild fish populations.
The sockeye salmon, rich in color and flavor, and the pink salmon, with lighter color and flavor, are two of the five types of Alaskan salmon.
Fish farmers catch them using pole and line or trolling lines with little environmental impact.
The Alaskan Salmon fisheries are well-managed, using sustainable practices and ensuring they grow healthy populations.
On the other hand, you want to avoid the farmed or Atlantic salmon, as the fishing operations involved could lead to pollution affecting the wild populations. You can cook your salmon in several ways, from baking to grilling, pan-frying, and boiling.
Related Read: Salmon Facts.
Skipjack Tuna typically comes canned and grows stronger than other tuna species. This means that they can reproduce their kind before fishermen catch them.
The Seafood Watch’s catch method includes trolling lines and poles-and-lines.
These fishing methods have a small impact on the skipjack’s habitat and reduce the bycatch of other species. The Pacific Ocean fisheries, where they catch the skipjack, are also well-managed.
Skipjack tunas have a strong flavor and make quick, delicious meals like fish tacos and fish rolls.
Related Read: Types of Tuna.
The Silver Hake or Atlantic Whiting previously fell under the overfished fish species. However, they are making a comeback to the North Atlantic.
They are a great white fish alternative to haddock and cod. The Silver hake has a sweet, mild taste and is very popular in fish and chips.
You want to stay away from silver hake gotten from South of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This is because the population within that region is still considered overfished.
Clams, mussels, and oysters are filter feeders that live in a hinged shell. They are not exactly a ‘fish’ but are bivalves. They don’t need feeds to be farmed and get their nutrients from water. Furthermore, they do not create waste like other seafood, making them a sustainable choice.
Clams and mussels are delicious raw. However, you will need to cook your oysters.
Related read: Oyster Facts.
If you’re looking for a substitute for salmon or trout, Arctic char is the way to go. It is an oily fish rich in flavors and has a meaty texture.
Regarding sustainability, fish farmers raise the farmed arctic char in a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), a low-risk farming method.
They grow them in indoor recirculating tanks, a fish farming method that reduces offshore pollution and wastewater, which often comes with traditional fisheries within wild habitats.
The Seafood Watch recommends buying fish with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification.
One of the most popular species used for canning is the Albacore tuna. The fishing methods have little impact on the environment and low bycatch rates. Some of the best Albacore tuna have a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
Albacore tuna has a mild flavor, which you can enjoy fresh, frozen, smoked, or canned.
Pacific cods are another sustainable seafood choice, unlike the Atlantic cod, whose population has declined due to overfishing. In the United States, they properly manage and responsibly harvest Pacific cod3.
There are four stocks of the Pacific cod: the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands, and the Pacific coast, of which none has a problem of overfishing. Fishing methods are also sustainable and reduce the bycatch of other species.
The rainbow trout is a freshwater fish with orange-pink flesh that is both firm and tender. It has an earthy flavor and is rich in nutrients.
In the United States, Rainbow trout farms employ responsible and sustainable practices that reduce the risk of pollution and escaped fish.
Haddock has a healthy stock population in the northeast Arctic, Iceland, the North Sea, and the Irish Sea. They also employ practices that ensure sustainability in the future.
However, fish farmers employ various fishing methods to catch the haddock. To be on the safe side, look out for a haddock that comes with an MSC certification2. You also want to avoid haddock fish gotten by trawling methods.
The sablefish is high in nutrients like Vitamin A and D and low in contaminants. They have populations in waters located in British Columbia and Alaska and use bottom longline methods4, which result in low bycatch.
You can find the sablefish as a whole in steaks and fillets, and it can come fresh or smoked.
While this type of fish is not part of the cod family, people call it the ‘Black cod.’
Mackerel fish stocks are at a healthy population in the Northeast Atlantic, and you can fish them with minimal environmental impact. Fisheries in the North Atlantic of the United States are well managed and incorporate fish farming methods that lead to little or no bycatch.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector, this fish is sustainable since they are caught with purse seines and trawls. They also have less mercury and high Omega-3.
You can get the Atlantic mackerel as a whole fish, steaks, or fillets (fresh or frozen). You can also find them salted or smoked. Some other species of mackerel include the Atka mackerel and King mackerel.
The tilapia fish is a freshwater fish with pale white flesh and a flavorful taste. In the United States, they properly manage tilapia fish farming with closed tank systems to reduce pollution.
You want to avoid tilapia outside the United States, as wild stocks in Latin America and Asia can threaten indigenous systems. This is because they raise tilapias in open systems, increasing the risk of escaping fish.
You can get farmed tilapia as a whole fish or in fillets. They are also available as fresh and frozen fish.
The Hake comes in white flesh and has a lighter flake than the cod. You can source them from Europe and South Africa. However, you want to choose Hake from Europe, as fish farms manage them sustainably.
But, no matter the source, you can be sure it is sustainable if it comes with an MSC certification1.
By choosing more sustainable fish, you can contribute positively to the planet. You can prevent unsustainable practices that harm our environment and control our fish populations from going extinct.
You can go through our article above to find sustainable types of seafood you can buy and eat.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.
Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.