Jennie Tai

Top 8 Seafoods to Avoid

We have researched and put together a list that is based on the culmination of Green Peace‘s Seafood Red List, the Environmental Defense Fund‘s Eco-Worst Choices, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch List. These lists are based on health advisories that are issued for particular species of fish, and is also based on which species of fish is plummeting or becoming endangered. In addition, these lists also talk about which species of fish are caught in some of the most damaging methods that also affect groups of other marine animals and their habitat.

Each of the listed seafoods are an ‘Eco-Worst’ (according to the EDF with a health advisory for its high level of mercury and PCB’s. I have researched and listed the amount of consumption that is recommended by the EDF for each of the following Red List Seafoods that should be avoided.

1) Chilean Sea Bass (also known as the Patagonian Tooth Fish)
Alternatives: Farmed Striped Bass, Alaskan/Canadian Sable Fish

  • Adults should eat no more than 2 meals per month
  • Kids up to age 12 should eat no more than 1 meal per month

Chilean seabass is severely overfished and is rated “Avoid.” In addition, most Chilean seabass in the U.S. market come from boats that are fishing illegally and using unmodified bottom longlines. This unmodified fishing gear hooks and drowns thousands of seabirds each year, most notably endangered albatross.

Slow-growing fish that reproduce late in life, Chilean seabass are naturally vulnerable to overfishing. The fishing methods used to catch these deep water fish cause more problems: bottom trawling can damage seafloor habitat, and miles of baited longline gear can fatally hook and drown endangered albatross and other seabirds. Since Chilean seabass live in remote Antarctic waters, law enforcement is difficult and large numbers of boats fish these waters illegally, without proper permits or gear. As a result, most Chilean seabass is fished unsustainably and should be avoided.

2) Orange Roughy
Alternatives: Striped Sea Bass, or Catfish

  • Women should eat no more than 2 meals per month
  • Men should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids age 6-12 should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids up to age 6 should eat no more than ½ meals per month

Orange roughy occurs in “pockets” of the deep oceans worldwide, with commercial fisheries off New Zealand, Australia, Namibia and the Northeast Atlantic. It has been severely overfished and has undergone dramatic population declines in some areas. It is fished over seamounts, steep continental slopes and ocean ridges using bottom trawling gear which has caused considerable damage to sensitive seafloor habitats including corals. There is also concern that some species of deep-sea sharks are caught accidentally in orange roughy fisheries.

Fun Fact: Orange roughy can live up to 100 years, so if you’ve got an Orange Rouhy filet in your freezer somewhere – chances are, it’s older than your grandmother!

3) Rockfish (Trawled)
Alternatives: Black Rockfish, or Hook & Line Rockfish

  • Adults should eat no more than 2 meals per month
  • Kids up to age 12 should eat no more than 1 meal per month

Rockfish are slow-growing and mature late in life and many are caught before they have had a chance to reproduce. These traits make them very vulnerable to overfishing. Not surprisingly, decades of heavy fishing sent rockfish populations plummeting. In addition, bottom trawling, the most widely-used method for catching rockfish, damaged seafloor habitats and caught large quantities of bycatch. In 2002, emergency fishery closures were enacted along the West Coast to give rockfish a chance to recover. The Acadian redfish (a species of trawled rockfish) was classified as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 1996 but this needs updating. Acadian redfish is often fished by bottom trawling which impacts on seabed habitats including coldwater corals.

Consumer Note: Buyer beware: rockfish is often mislabeled as red snapper or Pacific snapper. There are no snappers on the U.S. West Coast.
4) Salmon (Farmed or Atlantic)
Alternatives: Seafood Watch recommends wild-caught salmon from Alaska or Washington are both ocean-friendly choices. “Avoid” wild-caught salmon from California and Oregon, as well as salmon farmed in open net pens. Salmon farmed on land in “closed” or “contained” farms is a viable alternative that points the way to a more environmentally-friendly future for salmon farming.

  • Adults should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids age 6-12 should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids up to age 6 should eat no more than ½ meals per month

One of the biggest concerns is the amount of food required to raise farmed salmon. It generally takes three pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed salmon. The environmental impact of salmon farming is still increasing as global production continues to rise.Most salmon are farmed in open pens and cages in coastal waters. Waste from these farms is released directly into the ocean. Parasites and diseases from farmed salmon can spread to wild fish swimming near the farms and escaping farmed salmon can harm wild populations. As a result, all salmon farmed in ocean net pens get an “Avoid” ranking.

Consumer Note: The majority of salmon farmed today are Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon are usually farmed in large-scale, densely stocked netpens that pollute surrounding waters with waste and chemicals. A small quantity of Pacific salmon – Chinook and coho – is also farmed.

5) Shark
Alternative: US Caught Mahi Mahi, US Catfish, Farm Striped Bass, Pacific Halibut, Farmed Sturgeon

  • Women should not eat at all
  • Men should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids up to age 12 should not eat at all

Many shark species are overfished, or are listed as vulnerable, near threatened, endangered or critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Scientists estimate that 100 million sharks are caught and killed each year. Since sharks mature slowly and give birth to a few young at a time, most sharks do not reproduce quickly enough to keep up with the intense level of fishing and accidental catch. Sharks are caught by a variety of destructive fishing methods such as longlining and bottom trawling. These methods are associated with high unintentional catch (bycatch) of other fish species, as well as endangered turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds. Some shark species are caught in sensitive deepwater habitats. Half of all the sharks killed each year are caught accidentally in fishing gear intended for other fish. Some shark species are caught by illegal (pirate) fishing. Half of all the sharks killed each year are caught accidentally in fishing gear intended for other fish. Additionally, gillnets or longlines used to target sharks can catch endangered marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds.

Many sharks are killed just for their fins for traditional delicacies like shark-fin soup. The fins are cut off and the animals are thrown overboard to die. Shark finning is banned in some countries including the U.S., but still happens in many fisheries worldwide.

Spiny dogfish (often labeled as shark) are especially vulnerable to overfishing, since they have the longest gestation period of any vertebrate (two years).

Consumer Note: Many species are caught and sold under the generic name “shark.” Dogfish shark is sometimes used as a substitute for cod in fish and chips and is sold as “rock”.

6) Swordfish (Imported, Longline Caught)
Alternatives: Farm Striped Bass, or US Caught Mahi Mahi

  • Women should not eat at all
  • Men should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids up to age 12 should not eat at all

Swordfish is found throughout the oceans but not all regions are well-managed. Some of the gear used to catch swordfish accidentally catch other marine life such as sea turtles, seabirds and sharks. Swordfish is primarily targeted using longlining. This technique unintentionally catches and kills significant numbers of turtles, seabirds, sharks and marine mammals unless special preventative measures are taken. It is a serious threat to turtle populations and seabird populations, particularly to albatrosses. By contrast, handline or harpoon fishing methods for swordfish have little bycatch. Swordfish stocks are depleted in the Indian Ocean and are fully fished in the Mediterranean. Stocks are poorly manged in these regions. North Atlantic stocks were listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 1996.

7) Halibut (Greenland & Atlantic)
Alternatives: Pacific soles, such as English, Dover, Petrale, and rex.

  • Kids age 6-12 should eat no more than 3 meals per month
  • Kids up to age 6 should eat no more than 2 meals per month

Environmental Defense Fund has issued a consumption advisory for two species of Atlantic flatfish, winter and summer flounder, due to high levels of PCBs. Many different species of flatfish live off the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Florida. They’re fished mainly with trawls, a method that involves towing a net close to the seafloor. Trawls are problematic as they disturb and destroy the seafloor habitat and accidentally catch large quantities of bycatch. Flatfish populations off the Atlantic coast have experienced heavy fishing pressure from domestic and international fleets over the last half-century. Many species are at very low levels, particularly Atlantic halibut and some populations of yellowtail flounder. Despite a management plan intended to allow flatfish populations to rebuild in the Atlantic, most are still declining.

8] Tuna (Bluefin, Bigeye, Imported Longline)
Alternatives: Look for albacore tuna certified as sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Also – Yellowfin that is US caught, or albacore caught with troll or pole with little levels of bycatch.

All stocks of all species of tuna are fished at full capacity, and many are declining or depleted. Southern bluefin tuna is listed by the World Conservation Union as being critically endangered, bigeye tuna as vulnerable and northern bluefin tuna as
endangered in the East Atlantic and critically endangered in the West Atlantic. Tuna is mainly caught using purse seines or long-lines. These methods are associated with a high unintentional catch (bycatch) of other fish species, as well as endangered turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. If eating tuna, select skipjack tuna that is caught from pole and line or troll fisheries.  A further problem with some tuna stocks is iIlegal (pirate) fishing. In some countries, tuna is being farmed in “ranches”. Tuna ranching relies on younger tuna being caught alive from the wild and then kept in cages with artificial feeding. In recent years, ranching has boomed and is putting further pressure on already depleted stocks of wild tuna. Ranching also uses high amounts of other wild fish as feed  – about 20 kg of wild fish to produce just 1 kg of tuna. Albacore is caught with a variety of gear, including troll, pole-and-line and longline. There is little or no bycatch [Glossary] when albacore tuna is caught with troll or pole gear. However, longlines, the most common method, results in large bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. Since there are no international laws to reduce bycatch, these longline fleets are contributing heavily to the long-term decline of some of these species.

IN CONCLUSION: Avoid fish that are caught by long-lining, trawling, or are with high levels of bycatch. In addition, beware of particular species of fish that have health advisories issued for them on EDF’s Eco-Watch with high levels of mercury and PCB’s.

To view more of Green Peace‘s Seafood Red List, Click Here.

To view more of the Environmental Defense Fund‘s Eco-Worst Choices, Click Here.

To read more about Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch, Click Here.

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