Seafood: Ways to eat it guilt-free

Tips and tools from Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.

Tips and tools from Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

Taras Grescoe digs into a plate of fresh barbecued sardines. ((Manuel Bittencourt))
"Can changing the kind of seafood we eat really help the oceans?" asks the author of Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood. "The answer is emphatically, yes."

But of the hundreds of kinds of seafood sold in North American fish markets, only a few meet author Taras Grescoe's requirements of being both healthy to eat and ethically and sustainably fished.

These are just a few tips from the book's extensive appendix (see the review of Grescoe's new book and an interview with the author ).



Eat low on the food chain:

Go for mackerel, herring, sardines, oysters.

For your health avoid:

  • High-on-the-food-chain, long-lived predator fish — sharks, swordfish, cod, grouper, tuna - which concentrate toxins such as mercury in their flesh.
  • Farmed fish that are fattened with feed made from other fish. Grescoe favours herbivorous farmed fish such as Arctic char or tilapia.
Fisherman cuts the fins off a shark in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. ((Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images) )
What ocean does it come from?

"All fish comes from a place … in the world," Grescoe, who advocates stronger labelling laws for seafood, says. "Be aware that this can be the last, the only, kind of wild-caught protein that you will find in the supermarket, and you should have a certain amount of respect for it."

He adds: "Ask about where it comes from, as you would know where your bottle of wine came from."

Ask: How was it caught?

Some fishing methods destroy the ocean bottom. Others result in unwanted species, called bycatch, being caught, killed and thrown back into the ocean.

Grescoe calls high-seas bottom-trawling "the fishing industry's weapon of mass destruction."   

Ask: Was it wild-caught or farmed?

The healthy, ethical choice varies, depending on the species.

When it comes to salmon and shrimp, Grescoe advises against the farmed variety even if it is labeled organic. "There really aren't very good standards for organic farmed salmon as it stands right now in particular, and there are only a few producers of organic farmed shrimp in North America."

Follow the List

Pacific Bluefin tuna, caught offshore, fattened, and waiting for slaughter inside the Maricultura tuna "ranch" pens. ((Chris Park/AP) )
No, Never:

Bluefin Tuna: Including "farmed" tuna, which, Grescoe writes, actually consists of juveniles taken from the wild. "Dining on them is like ordering sashimi Bengal tiger — decadent and more than a little amoral."

Atlantic Halibut: "Fished to the brink."

Atlantic Cod: Most stocks have collapsed. "Fished by pirate vessels."

Sharks and dogfish: Populations are crashing as an increasingly prosperous Asia dines on shark fin soup. "Banqueting on ... shark fin is what it looks like: pure decadence, the desperate feasting of despoilers who really don't care if there's anything left over for the generations that follow."

Shrimp farms where mangroves once stood on the west coast of Indonesia's Borneo coast. ((Sebastien Blanc/AFP/Getty Images))
Depends, Sometimes:

Anchovy: Numbers in the North Atlantic are at an all time low. "Overfished." Wait.

Clams: If farmed, go for it. Dredging for clams, however, permanently damages the sea floor.

Shrimp: Avoid most imported, farmed shrimp. Choose small, wild-caught northern shrimp, spot prawn and pink shrimp from Canada and northern U.S. waters over large "tiger" or "white" shrimp or prawns.

 Absolutely, Always:

Arctic char: Farmed in land-based containment systems.

Mackerel: To reduce mercury, favour Spanish mackerel from the Atlantic over those from the Gulf of Mexico.

Jellyfish and carp: Eating them is "a public service." You'll be doing the world a favour.

More tips, along with Grescoe's suggestions to reverse the destruction of the oceans, can be found at his website and in his book.