With documentaries like Seaspiracy and increased awareness of dwindling fish stocks, many people are wondering if there are any sustainable fish to eat. The world’s most sustainable fish can (and should!) still end up on your dinner plates. Let’s take a look at how to choose them.
What You Need to Know to Determine the Sustainability About Fish You Eat
So exactly what is sustainable fish? It requires us to consider a few different things:
Every plate of food we consume travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches our mouths. Seafood is known to rack up many of these food miles, especially as we import more than 80% of our seafood from abroad, from countries like China, Canada, Ecuador, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Most seafood also requires a tremendous amount of energy to ensure that it’s edible. If it’s flown on ice (a common method), it requires not just fossil fuels for the airplane, but also to keep the fish at an optimal temperature.
For this reason, if a seafood source is coming from abroad, frozen or canned fish is generally associated with a lower transportation impact. Alternatively, locally-sourced seafood can help minimize the transportation carbon footprint, too.
The ‘farmed vs wild-caught’ debate is complex, and unfortunately there isn’t a clear winner. Some farmed fish species are superior, as they save wild fish populations. Alternatively, other fish species are better wild-caught, because they’re generally associated with a lesser environmental impact.
Because there are pros and cons to both types of seafood sourcing, it’s helpful to look for certifications from organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Ocean Wise, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
A diversified diet is better
In the U.S., many of us stick to just a few types of seafood: salmon, cod, tuna, and shrimp. One of the best ways to support healthy fish stocks and good biodiversity levels is to eat a more varied diet. This helps to reduce the pressure on certain fish stocks, and it’s better from a nutritional perspective, too.
Even small changes can help. Normally eat sockeye salmon? Try king salmon instead. Craving a tuna sandwich? Consider swapping tuna for sardines. Try the catch of the day or consider a subscription service that ships you what’s in season.
Direct from the source
Because things like fisherman welfare and biodiversity are difficult to know by a package of frozen or fresh fish, one of the best ways to buy sustainable fish is to get it directly from the fishermen themselves. Direct trade (D2C) seafood makes it easier to source ethical and sustainable seafood (and there’s a good chance it’ll taste fresher, too).
Sustainable Fish to Eat & Why Each One of Them is Sustainable
We’ve scoured over sustainable fish charts so that you don’t have to! Here are some species that commonly make the list of the most sustainable fish to eat.
1. Anchovy (wild-caught in Peru, Chile)
When sourced in Peru-Chile, anchovies come from the Humboldt Current System, a highly productive ecosystem and home to a very healthy stock of anchovy. Both countries have environmental measures in place to protect wild fish stock and use purse seining, which has a minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
2. Pacific cod (wild-caught in Alaska)
Pacific cod is considered to be a smart and sustainable seafood choice because the fisheries are sustainably managed and the cod is responsibly harvested, meeting all U.S. regulations. Of the four stocks in the Pacific, none are considered to be overfished, and the Bering Sea (bordering Alaska) actually has above-target population levels.
3. Arctic char (farmed)
Unlike many other fish species, Arctic char is well-suited to aquaculture, and is typically produced in an indoor recirculating system, which is a cleaner method of fish farming because less chemicals are required and there’s low risk for disease outbreaks
To diversify your diet, char can easily replace common species like trout or salmon in nearly any recipe.
4. Atlantic mackerel (wild-caught)
In the Northeast Atlantic, mackerel fish stocks are at a healthy level and can be fished with minimal impact on the seabed or surrounding environment.
In fact, in South West England (Cornwall, specifically), fishermen adhere to a quota allocation which ensures that stocks will continue to remain at healthy levels. They also use one of the most sustainable fishing techniques, hook and line (handline).
5. Haddock (wild-caught from the north-east Arctic, Iceland, the North Sea, Irish Sea)
In these mentioned areas, haddock populations are at healthy levels, and measures have been put in place to ensure sustainability in the future. Because various fishing methods are used, consider avoiding haddock that has been trawled, or look for certifications from organizations like MSC. Hook and line (longline) or seine nets are better options.
If you find yourself often turning to cod, haddock can easily replace it in a tasty recipe.
6. European hake (wild-caught)
In recent years, the hake population in Europe has bounced back from depleted levels, and is now at a record high. Selecting European hake that’s been caught by net (gill or fixed) is a more sustainable option, as is avoiding fresh hake during their breeding season, which is from February to July. Check for MSC-certified fisheries, too.
7. Pacific salmon (wild-caught in Alaska)
Unlike in the Atlantic, the salmon fish stocks in the Pacific are still healthy—and home to some of the world’s best fishery management practices. In this region, Alaskan salmon fisheries consistently rank the highest in terms of sustainability—meaning that we’re not the only ones who think they’re the most sustainable fish!
8. Pacific oyster (farmed or wild-caught in the UK (Cornwall))
While not technically ‘fish,’ bivalves, like mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters are lower on the food web, so they’ve got some unique sustainability benefits. Not only do they accumulate less toxins than other fish species, but they don’t require much to thrive—and can even support the ecosystems in which they live.
Even compared to many plant-based foods, bivalve aquaculture is associated with less greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater, and land use. Even better, they’re recognized as one of the best ways to protect waterways from toxic algal growth, also called “algal blooms.”
In fact, oysters farmed in the UK thrive solely on the surrounding environment and don’t require any feed sources at all! They gobble up all of the extra algae and many of the other particulates dirtying our waterways and oceans, then they leave us with a tasty, protein-rich food that’s also high in magnesium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
9. Pacific sablefish (wild-caught in Alaska)
The Alaskan sablefish fishery is well-managed, meaning that sablefish are responsibly harvested now, and will continue to be in the future. Currently, sablefish are at above-target population levels. Common fishing techniques have minimal impacts on the environment, and minimum bycatch levels.
While they’re not part of the cod family, sablefish are often referred to as ‘black cod’ and can easily replace cod in a meal.
10. Atlantic herring (wild-caught)
This sustainably caught fish comes from the Irish Sea, where herring stocks are at an all-time high, this is a sustainable fish species. In the region, pelagic pair trawling (also known as midwater trawling) is used, which has some negative impacts on the environment, but because it doesn’t touch the bottom of the ocean, it’s a more sustainable alternative.
- King crab (wild-caught in Alaska)
- Albacore tuna
- Pacific sardines
- Abalone (farmed)
Final Thoughts on The Top 10 Sustainable Fish
Thank you for making your way through this article! By considering the most sustainable fish and trying to make each bite a little greener, you’re contributing to a healthier planet. Plus, you’re supporting your body with an excellent protein source that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and heart-supporting omega-3 fatty acids!