Fish 101 – fish, from the culinary point of view. I started writing this post about fish because I’ve started incorporating it into my diet and I wanted to know a bit more about it. Little did I know how long the post would end up being.
So, I’ve split it into 3 write-ups. Today, Fish 101, is mostly about the nutrition of fish, the possible risks of fish, and how fish are caught or farmed (sustainability). Fish 102 will go into different categorizations of fish (which really was where all this started for me), and Fish 103 goes into different cooking methods.
Before we begin the fish speak, let’s talk about “fish or fishes”… Is it grammatically correct to say fish or fishes? Though often used interchangeably, these words have different meanings. “Fish” is used either as singular noun or to describe a group of specimens from a single species. While the word “Fishes” describes a group of different species.
The nutritional aspects of seafood
Fish is a lean protein that’s low in sodium and calories. It’s an excellent source of B-vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Saltwater fish also provide necessary iodine.
Nutritionists recommend that people eat three or more servings of fish per week due to studies that have demonstrated the link between higher fish intake and lower rates of coronary heart disease and cancer.
Risks of Eating Fish
Some fish may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger predatory fish, such as tuna, swordfish, king Mackerel, and shark.
Smaller fish like squid, sardines, and oysters, tend to contain less mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to these pollutants.
Contaminants are mostly stored in the fatty tissue of fish, so grilling and broiling are recommended to allow fats and juices to drain away. Removing the skin and surface fat from fish before cooking can further reduce potential exposure to contaminants. In general, cooking fish, as opposed to eating it raw, can reduce contaminant levels by about 30%. A word of caution, deep-frying can seal in toxins, which may be stored in fat.
Fishing and farming practices
Fish were once plentiful and inexpensive, and were once even considered peasant food. But, because of various factors, including increased popularity of fish, increased pollution of the oceans, and wasteful fishing methods, demand for fish has begun to outstrip supply.
Many of the fish species we eat are experiencing population declines at alarming rates. Overfishing and habitat-destroying fishing and farming practices threaten certain types of fish, as well as the marine life with which they share the seas. We, as consumers, need to pay attention to where our food comes from and the methods with which the food is obtained.
We need to make sure that the fish we eat is sustainably obtained. But, first what does that catch-phrase “sustainable” mean? Sustainable means, being able to be endured for an indefinite period without damaging the environment, or without depleting a resource. Sustainable fishing and farming practices are critical to preventing the extinction of seafood species. Simply, sustainable means keeping those fishies around for a long, long time.
In general, wild caught fish are typically a sustainable, safe option. Wild caught fish will almost always have superior flavor to farmed fish, simply because the wild fish eat wild whole foods from nature, and the naturally occurring nutrients they feed on often make for better taste. Properly managed fisheries (for catching wild fish) use methods that protect the ocean, the ocean floor, and the fish supply. In addition, American seafood isn’t perfect, but the U.S. variety of a particular type of fish is generally better than its imported counterpart because the U.S. has stricter fishing and farming standards than other parts of the world.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that farmed fish is automatically bad. As the SFF project states, “Some fishing practices are better than others. Some farming practices are better than others.” More than half the shrimp eaten in the U.S. were raised on a farm. Try to choose shellfish grown on farms using racks, lines or nets, which are suspended in the water. These methods minimize damage to bottom habitat during harvesting.
Try to eat locally caught fish. Unless you’re eating fish from a nearby body of water, it has to be frozen or transported, which uses more energy. You’re usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country, unless that species has been depleted in local waters.
The USDA requires all seafood packaging to include the country of origin to be listed on the package. This Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a labeling law that requires retailers to notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods. Food products contained in the law include meats, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and some other foods.
So, as consumers we need to research a little more… I like to check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list. They also have an app for your iphone.
The Seafood for the Future project, part of the Aquarium of the Pacific also offers a list of recommended choices.
So, there’s a few resources and tips help make sure that the seafood you’re looking at is sustainable.
The big question for me …Why eat fish at all?
I mean, if there’s all this controversy about sustainability and pollution, isn’t it better just to avoid eating anything that comes out of the sea at all?
Sustainability is more than just not eating fish; it’s about the interrelated nature of the world in which we live. The importance of the health of our world/environment/Earth is the larger issue when we’re speaking of sustainability.
By not eating fish, communities reliant on the fishing trade will be destroyed. However, by overfishing, many communities are in danger, as they no longer have a product to support their profession.
The SFF blog states, “The eat-no-seafood approach implies that stopping the consumption of fish will lead to the restoration of ocean health, at least where fisheries are concerned. This ignores the fact that fisheries are affected by more than just overfishing. Habitat loss, climate change, ocean “acidification,” dead zones, pollutants, and eutrophication all contribute to the decline in marine diversity and ecosystem health.“
Eating fish has opened my eyes to some very real issues that are going on in our oceans. And, I think if people eat fish they are more likely to have a personal investment in the health of the oceans. They are more likely to care what happens to the fish. They are more likely to vote with their hard earned money on what fishing and farming practices are acceptable and which are not.
In short, this is how we change the bad stuff out there, make it personal, make it real. People will make the right choices if they have the right information, if they have a reason to care. Eating fish is not only healthy for us, it can be healthy for the oceans.