Category Archives: The Fish Dilemma

New in the Gulf of Mexico: Eyeless Shrimp

Via the Huffington Post comes a video from Al Jazeera about some interesting fish turning up in the Gulf of Mexico, including eyeless shrimp. Biologists think these mutations are related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The American government doesn’t think so. What do you think?

The New Way to Share Food: Community Supported Fisheries

Graphic via Port Clyde Fresh Catch

I just learned today on, a website and social action network, that local fisherman along the North American seaboard are starting up Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs). Similar to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), they give coastal communities the ability to enjoy local fish while supporting their fishermen neighbors. Members buy seasonal shares for a flat rate up front in exchange for a weekly (or bi-weekly) delivery of fresh fish and shellfish. As with CSAs, you get what’s in season.

According to TakePart, “the CSF movement was born in the tiny village of Port Clyde, Maine, in 2007. Spurred by local success and increased demand, a small but growing CSF web now extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At least 20 different CSFs are operating in coastal communities from Maine and Massachusetts to North Carolina, California and Alaska, as well as Nova Scotia and British Columbia.”

The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) helps promote the CSF movement across the U.S., fostering relationships between local fishermen and shoppers.

CSFs are good for the environment as well because it helps fishermen get a fair price for their catch so they don’t have to kill more fish than is necessary. They bring home what the ocean offers up. And, since most CSFs deliver whole fish, fishermen help members learn how to use more than just the filets.

One drawback, according to Dr. Geoffrey Shester, senior science manager for the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is that “local doesn’t mean sustainable, and small-scale doesn’t mean sustainable.” However, Niaz Dorry of NAMA believes that “by alleviating the fight to meet the bottom line, CSFs allow fishermen to stop focusing on the particular fish species that is fetching the highest price on shore. All of the fish are worth the same amount of money to a CSF fisherman.”

Are you interested in a CSF? If you live in a coastal community, check out NAMA’s directory for a CSF near you.

I May Have a Solution to My Fissues

Photo via Scientific American

Several times since I started this blog in 2009, I’ve brought up “fissues”–that is, my dilemma about eating fish: what kind, from where, etc.

In a global economy, we can get just about anything we want to eat from almost anywhere. And everyone says fish is good for you; in fact, we should be eating more fish and less red meat.

But what if the red meat is local, grassfed beef–higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (which is good) and without hormones or antibiotics–but your only access to fish comes from a polluted lake or river, or a fish farm?

All my life I’ve enjoyed eating fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean when I lived in New Jersey and spent summers in Rhode Island. Now that I live in Michigan, I don’t eat seafood–not because I can’t get it, but because I know a lot of money and resources have been spent to get seafood to the Midwest. Besides, we have plenty of lake perch and walleye here. But if you read the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fish Advisory Guide, you’ll probably be afraid to eat almost anything from the Great Lakes, if you’re a woman or child in particular.

I’ve come to realize how polluted the earth really is when you have to worry about the toxins in wild-caught fish. And farmed fish? They are often fed corn and antibiotics, similar to feedlot beef in this country.

Finally, I might have a solution. An aquaculture company called Aqua Seed Corp has devised a new, sustainable process that raises Pacific coho salmon in freshwater, according to Scientific American. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program is approving it.

The article claims, “the salmon, to be sold under the SweetSpring label, have also been shown to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, placing the salmon on Seafood Watch’s newly created Super Green List, which denotes that the fish is good for human health without causing harm to the ocean. To appear on the Super Green List, the salmon must provide the daily minimum of omega-3s (at least 250 milligrams per day) based on 28 grams of fish, and have PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) levels under 11 parts per billion (ppb). AquaSeed came in at 335 milligrams per day of omega-3s and had a PCB level of 10.4 ppb.”

How does this method work? The AquaSeed Pacific coho salmon are raised in a land-based, freshwater, closed containment system, which prevent escapes and problems with sea lice infestation that have plagued open-net ocean pen operations. The process also utilizes a high-end salmon feed and selective breeding to reduce amount of wild feed fish needed, which is better for the environment.

I wonder if someone will figure that out in Michigan? Then I can consume safe, environmentally friendly, and local fish!

For the Conscientious Fish Consumer

My friend Lois alerted me to an interesting  book that might inspire fish eaters who aim to eat responsibly and healthfully. It’s called Fish Tales:  Stories and Recipes from Sustainable Fisheries Around the World, which is published in association with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world’s leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood.

Here’s a summary of the book from MSC: “From the haddock and cod fished in Norway, to the clams caught in Vietnam, via the salmon caught by Eskimos in Alaska, fishmonger, Bart van Olphen and chef, Tom Kime, travelled to each of the fisheries to learn about their sustainable methods of fishing and get to know the people and communities who recognise the need to restore balance in our fragile oceans. With stunning location photography, each chapter offers captivating accounts on the fishery and its native fish, accompanied by delicious recipes inspired by a variety of places and cultures.”

Looks like a good gift idea for the conscientious foodie this holiday season!

Ocean-Friendly Seafood Choices in an App

Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program creates recommendations for seafood items based on market information collected from retailers and restaurants in the U.S. about the items they sell. The Seafood Watch research team gathers information about the most popular seafood items, imported and domestic, and evaluates it using sustainability criteria. For each item, a report is completed and circulated to outside experts who review and critique our findings. At the conclusion of this process, a final seafood report and recommendations are completed and posted on their website,

Now there’s an app for Seafood Watch recommendations, making it easy to choose sustainable seafood at your favorite restaurant or while shopping. It’s like the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, only better.

At a time when the world’s oceans are severely overfished, here’s an easy way to make a difference.

I Have to Disagree with the Italian Fishermen

The New York Times reported yesterday that “hundreds of small Italian fishing boats from Venice to Porto Palo in Sicily drew up their nets on Tuesday to protest a European Union Council regulation regarding sustainable fishing in the Mediterranean that became fully effective on June 1.”

Although the EUC regulations impact Greece, France, Spain, and Malta as well, the Italians are protesting the loudest because of the effect this change will have on their dinner table: Regulations call for the use of larger mesh sizes in nets and ban the use of trawl nets close to the coast, which means fewer fish to offer in the market.

Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for Maria Damanaki, commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, noted that the regulation was drafted as a “call for a long-term sustainable approach so that fisherman can fish in the future, and so that they can preserve their local cultures and traditions.”

Critics of the plan, like Ettore Iani, president of Legapesca, a national fish trade association, claim they can understand if fishing quotas or number of fishing days were reduced, “but the truth is they’re shutting us down.”

Granted, I’m not a fisherman, and–even though I’ve caught my share of flounder by trawling the Atlantic and bluegills by casting on inland Michigan lakes–I certainly haven’t experienced the scope of commercial fishing. But, just like other resources in this world, if we don’t put restrictions on our harvest, they’ll be depleted.

So maybe there are fewer options for calamari on the menus in Italy? Here’s an idea: Have more pasta e fagioli.

Basic Tuna Salad

First, the disclaimer: As I’ve said before, I’m really in a weird space about eating fish. It’s either unsustainably farmed or wild caught (with bycatch consequences), or it has too many toxins. I love fish but I hate this dilemma I’m in.

One of my favorite types of fish is tuna. Yes, the basic tuna you get from a can. I am still on the fence about this but feel pretty good about Wild Planet wild albacore tuna. Just read the label and see if you feel the same:

I also like the information they provide on the side label:

After searching for and finding a can of tuna I feel good about buying (yes, it was almost $4.00 a can, but that’s why one doesn’t eat tuna every day), I made a basic tuna salad for lunch.

All that’s in my tuna salad is onion, celery, tuna, mayonnaise, and hyssop (an herb I grow outside my front door).

First, I soak some red onion in water to take the bite out of it (and to prevent post-lunch onion breath).

Then, chop some celery….

Open your can of tuna and–with Wild Planet–be sure NOT to drain it or you’ll lose the Omega-3 oils!

Chop some hyssop (and some chive for garnish).

Mix the veggies, hyssop and tuna together in a bowl.

Add Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

Pile tuna salad atop Bibb and oak leaf lettuce from Mud Lake Farm (my CSA), seasoned with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Garnish with cucumber and chives.

Farmed Fish? Depends on the Species

In the Science section of The New York Times this week there was a helpful Q&A about farming fish. Well, sort of helpful.

As I’ve mentioned before, this “fissue” has been a quandary for me because I love to eat fish. The dilemma is that farmed fish is similar to feedlot meat (exposed to fecal pollution and antibiotics), while wild-caught fish does damage to the environment–especially due to the abuse of bycatch. And many species–in many places around the world–carry toxins so we need to limit the amount of fish we eat per week. No fun.

The Times article answers this question: Why do ecologists seem to give the nod to farmed catfish and tilapia but not salmon? The very first sentence in the answer is “The ecological issues related to fish farming vary from freshwater to saltwater fish; from carnivorous species to noncarnivores; and from open pens to closed ponds and tanks, among many other factors.” See what I mean? Not very helpful.

Apparently farmed catfish and tilapia aren’t as much of a concern as farmed salmon because “they require no fish or animal components in their feed and thrive in enclosed freshwater tanks, ponds or channels.” My guess is they’re getting corn to eat, which doesn’t fit well in my world of food.

So, I don’t feel much better about my options.

Andrew Knowlton, aka The BA Foodist from Bon Appetit magazine, has a few good rules to follow, which I posted last December.

Otherwise, looks like I’m stuck in my quandary. If anyone’s got some guidance on the fish topic, I’d love to hear it!

What Fish to Eat: A Few Rules from the BA Foodist

There’s a column in Bon Appetit magazine by the BA Foodist (restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton), who does his best to answer readers’ questions about restaurants, food, cooking, you name it.

In the January, 2010 issue one reader asked the Foodist, “With the buzz surrounding sustainable seafood, why do so many restaurants still serve endangered fish, and what can I do about it?” This is the dilemma of the year for me.

The Foodist responds with a few good rules to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid all farm-raised salmon and imported farm-raised fish and shellfish due to increased levels of toxic chemicals. (Domestic farm-raised barramundi, arctic char, catfish, striped bass, and rainbow trout are fine.)
  2. Eat sardines and mackerel: The rule of thumb is the smaller the fish, the more sustainable.
  3. Avoid Chilean sea bass, bluefin tuna, orange roughy, imported sturgeon caviar, and imported shrimp whenever possible.
  4. And, just because it’s on the menu at a famous chef’s restaurant doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat.

I would add to that: If the fish isn’t local, eat frozen rather than fresh as I mentioned in a recent blog post. You may have to ask your server how it arrives at the restaurant.

And, I’d still be skeptical about any farmed fish even though the Foodist okays a select few in rule number one, above. My question is: What do farmed fish eat? No doubt, corn is on their menu.

Eating Fish: Fresh Versus Frozen?

Photo via The New York Times

Two ecological economists and one food system researcher teamed up to tackle the problem of sustainable food systems and reported on it in The New York Times this past week.

The team chose salmon for their study because it’s an important source of protein around the world and a food that is available nearly anywhere at any time, regardless of season or local supply. While they didn’t focus so much on what the fish consumed, they did bring to light the environmental impact of shipping salmon.

The results?
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