How to Pick Safe, Sustainable Fish at the Grocery Store

Learn how to make the smartest (and most eco-friendly) choices the next time you're at the fish counter.

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April 01, 2021

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Fish is definitely high on the list of healthy foods to eat, but shopping for it can be a challenge. Is this one full of mercury? Where did that one come from? Do I need to worry about overfishing? Farm-raised or wild? Here are some resources to help make the safest and most eco-friendly choices the next time you're shopping for fish.

Hook On To Reliable Sources

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program aims to help consumers make seafood choices that keep oceans healthy and their dinner plates safe. They identify sustainable fishing operations, constantly update their data, and offer a user-friendly app to help you when shopping. They also offer many downloadable pocket guides for national as well as regional seafood picks (different seafood is more accessible to different geographical regions); these guides are also available in Spanish.

Seafood Watch has developed an easy to follow, color-coded system that lists seafood options that's caught or raised in a sustainable manor and that are low in mercury and other contaminants. They also have a stand-alone guide just for sustainable sushi. Green is considered “Best Choices” yellow as “Good Alternatives” while red is flagged “Avoid.” Here are some examples from the most current national guide – as you can see, they are very specific.

  • Best Choices: Arctic Char (farmed), Bass (US Farmed), Cod (Pacific -AK), Salmon (New Zealand), Tilapia (Canada, Ecuador, Peru + US)
  • Good Alternatives: Salmon (CA, OR + WA), Scallops (Sea – wild), Shrimp (Canada + US wild, Ecuador + Honduras farmed), Tuna Albacore (US longlines)
  • Avoid: Halibut (Atlantic, wild), Swordfish (imported longlines), Cod (Pacific – Japan + Russia), Tilapia (China)

Read Those Labels

When at the market, check packaging for the country of origin or ask your fishmonger. You can also look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) seal. The MSC certifies sustainable fishing operations throughout the country.

Get Sustainable Seafood Delivered

Today, sustainable seafood can be delivered right to your door. Companies are finding innovative ways to cold ship the sea into your kitchen. Companies like Purefish offer several fish options including salmon, cod, tuna, shrimp and scallops that arrive on your doorstep packaged in ready to cook trays that can to go right into the oven. New York City’s already famous Fulton Fish Market now offers home delivery of all kinds of seafood and the Wild Alaskan Seafood Company offers memberships for monthly seafood deliveries.

Recipes to Try with Sustainable Fish

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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