Sustainable Fish Makes For Healthier Seafood
August 5, 2012

Sustainable Fish Makes For Healthier Seafood

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Is your fish healthy, safe, harvested responsibly? These are all things you need to think about when you order seafood.  While there are many services and rankings offered to help you decide — there's even an iPhone app — it has been found a simple rule of thumb applies.

"If the fish is sustainable, then it is likely to be healthy to eat too," said Leah Gerber, an associate professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University.

Gerber and colleagues ran an analysis of existing literature on fish to see which ones are more healthy choices and which seem to be the ones you might want to just avoid, due to contaminants like mercury or due to over-exploitation. These findings are published in the on-line version of the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a publication of the Ecological Society of America (Aug. 2).

In “Sustaining seafood for public health,” Gerber and fellow authors — Roxanne Karimi, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y., and Timothy Fitzgerald of the Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, DC — state that their analysis is the first to bring together several types of sustainability rankings, along with health metrics from specific species , including mercury content and omega-3 fatty acid.

"In general, larger longer-lived fish are more likely to have exposure to toxins due to the length of their lives and their place on the food chain," Gerber explained. "So you might be best served to stay away from them — like Bluefin Tuna or Swordfish. Besides they already are over fished."

The research started with her interest in knowing more about the fish she ate and the choices she and her friends made when dining on fish. Being a conservation biologist and sushi lover, she said the safer choices might be Atlantic Mackerel or Alaskan Pollock.

In one experience, to her dismay, Gerber said friends ordered Bluefin Tuna.

"That my socially- and health-conscious friends did not know Bluefin was taboo made me think about how complicated it has become to decide what seafood to eat," she recalled. "How do seafood consumers make informed decisions based on ecological risk, health risks (mercury and PCBs), and health benefits (omegas).

So Gerber, Karimi and Fitzgerald developed a database on both ecological and health metrics of seafood by going through literature.

"We used the database to look for patterns of similarity between ecological and health metrics, and found that in general, choosing healthy seafood also means that you are choosing sustainable seafood," Gerber said. "Great news for sushi-lovers! Choose the sustainable options and you also are boosting omega-3 intake, without risking mercury poisoning."

Next Gerber is slated to help develop a tool that can be used to help guide seafood consumers to better choices in what they eat.

"We want to help people choose fish that are both eco-friendly and healthy," she said.