Stewardship Monday: A sea of choices

What is “sustainable seafood”? Put simply, sustainable practices should meet our current needs in a way that does not compromise the ability to meet the needs of the future. This is a hot topic, and there are a lot of things to keep track of. Season, fishing method, by catch, country of origin…. And every type of fish has different needs and qualifications for “best practices”. All of these choices can be dizzying on top of the task of simply choosing a product that is fresh, healthy and safe to eat.

fish market

If you sometimes feel like all of these choices (and their seasonality) is difficult to keep track of, there are some tricks to shopping for seafood that will help you get the best quality meal that is good for you and the ocean.

At the grocery store, here are some things to look for:

  1. Fish fillets should look shiny and glistening with and even color.
  2. Prepackaged fish should be fresh—no older than (or not thawed for longer than) 1 or 2 days.
  3. Shellfish: Live crabs and lobsters should be active; frozen or precooked should be packed on ice, with no more than a mild smell. Clams and mussels should be closed tightly—store them on ice and uncovered (don’t suffocate them in a plastic bag).
  4. Caught in the USA. America is a leader in seafood sustainability and regulations. It isn’t a perfect system, but for the most part you can be assured that fish caught locally are well-managed. Fish caught abroad can be sustainable, but it may take more research to find that out.
  5. “Certified sustainable”. There are several third party agencies that try to make buying sustainable quick and easy. You can look for seals of approval from organizations such as: Marine Stewardship Council and Seafood Watch. Just keep in mind that no system is without flaws.

Here are some great resources to learn more about buying and preparing seafood safely:

Marine Advisory Service Bulletin: A Consumer Guide to Safe Seafood Handling (pdf)

FDA: Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely

Natural Resources Defense Council: How to Shop for Fish

Cook up something good for your family and for the ocean this holiday season and share your favorite seafood recipes!

fish taco recipe

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2 Responses to “Stewardship Monday: A sea of choices”

  1. Kevin (OceanographyNews.net) Says:

    Thanks for the tips. Any thoughts on seafood that is labeled “wild” as opposed to being “farm raised” or from an aquaculture facility? There seems to be a lot of debate right now about the sustainability of certain aquaculture practices. And furthermore, it seems some vendors have been able to use the “wild” label even their fish are farm raised.

    • feliciamc Says:

      Kevin, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Mislabeled seafood is a common and difficult to identify problem. Unfortunately, unless you are buying fish whole (and know how to identify it), or are one of the rare people with a great palate and a lot of experience who can identify fish by taste (and even smell), most people are beholden to believing their vendor (I only know one person who used to work for MSI who fits this description–and he only ate seafood that he caught himself). One step I left out of this guide was choosing a vendor that you trust. This choice can be aided by some certifying agencies.

      As for aquaculture practices, I have to give you the frustrating answer of “it depends”. It used to be widely held that farmed fish was bad for the environment, but with new practices and regulations that may be changing. IT DEPENDS also on the type of fish. Different types of fish, with different diets and life histories, have different impacts. So, you’ll have to consider that choice not by a generalized approach, but more on a fish by fish basis. That being said, buying locally or at least buying from fish produced in the United States will ensure that, farmed or not, the industry is being held to fairly rigorous standards. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website has more resources to learn about each type of fishing and farming method, and their recommendations evolve with the industry.


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