Talking fish it is a complex issue and really one to delve into for making good choices for your health and the environment. If I only do one thing by writing this article it is with the agenda to encourage your thought and questions when buying, consuming and cooking fish.
Fish is so nutritious for us due to its Omega 3 oils. It can be so healthy for heart health , joint health and brain. Omega 3 I prescribe for so many ailments including joint inflammation, dementia, concentration in study, bone health and immunity.
The more I have learnt about fish the more I realize there are so many questions and facts worth thinking about like;
Did you know fish are seasonal, like vegetables
Not all fish is sustainable
Some fish are higher in mercury so not a healthy choice to eat
Fish in cans or farmed fish can be healthy options
Is the fresh fish you are eating from reputable sources?
Is the fresh fish you buy farmed or ocean fish?
If farmed how and where is it farmed, what is it fed and is this farm good for the ocean or damaging the environment?
If a particular farm is damaging to the environment how is this sustainable?
What is thought as sustainable in one person’s perspective may not be for another. It is all an opinion.
Can fish be organic? Even an ocean fish in natural environment can have toxins in it.
Has wild fish been caught ethically and sustainably?
In summary what this article is about is sustainability, diversity and toxicity.
Sustainable means capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage. It is about eating fish so we have enough fish for the future. Below is an extract of an amazing website GoodFishBadFish and on their website you can learn a lot about sustainable fish choices and even information on types of farming. This extract is from their website.
'Demand for seafood is greater than ever before, and fish stocks are increasingly under pressure. Overfishing of key species and the use of damaging fishing techniques have taken their toll on fish stocks and disrupted the fragile balance of marine ecosystems. However, there is hope. Increasingly, consumers, government and the seafood industry are becoming aware of their impact. Many fishers and farmers are taking steps to improve their practices to the benefit of the environment.
The GoodFishBadFish philosophy is that improving the state of the oceans (and ending overfishing) starts with consumers. Making consumers aware of the power of their purchasing decisions starts with highlighting the demand based nature of the food services industry. By supporting the development of sustainable fisheries we can encourage changes within the industry which will lead to better environmental outcomes.
By supporting the industries that put fish on our tables and encouraging better environmental practices consumers can turn the tide, ensuring that there will always be ‘plenty more fish in the sea’.
It is assumed farmed fish is bad but don’t be closed off to eating farmed fish for if it is done well this could be the way of the future for some breeds. Things to think about when eating farmed fish is how does the farm impact the environment.
Questions I ask:
Impact on environment- is there harm with chemicals or pathogens? Is there harm to creatures of the sea near by. This is called bywatch. For example are seals shot if near the farms. Or entanglement of bywatch eg turtles. In land fish farming could be the best choice here.
What fish food is used – gluten, soy base avoid.
Are the fish given antibiotics or growth enhancers or vaccinated?
Is the fish bred in overcrowded areas. This is not healthy for the fish and increases pathogenic waste.
Are the fish dyed a colour before selling or in feed pellets?
Is there more fish used to make the pellets than fish grown and if so how is this sustainable
Is a farmed fish ever classed as organic but then again with pollution in oceans is ocean fish ever classed as organic?
Fish farms in the ocean breed pathogens that pour out into the ocean. In nature the unwell salmon get eaten by predators. Even fish farms are still not healthy if they still breed infections and parasites and worse still if they spread waste into the ocean and affect the ecology.
As Environment Tasmania’s spokes person Laura Kelly says:
‘We know the flesh is artificially coloured because it isn’t fed a natural diet . People don’t know they could be coming from pens where they swim above mounds of bacteria and in their own faeces. We know half the fish are deaf because their growth is so rapid. We know our water tends to be too warm for atlantic salmon and that in summer they swim around with their mouths open, crushing against the net where there is the most oxygen’
Many people are turning to New Zealand farmed salmon as it is much more closely aligned with the salmon you get from Alaska.
Farming of fish does not need to stop but the more people that are aware of the farming processes the quicker the industry might change to be more environmentally minded and health minded. No pellet feeding, no soy feeding, no colouring, or extensive antibiotics would be my suggestions. Land based fish farms are at least a huge improvement in protecting the ocean. This could be a big step forward.
Fish farms should not be in environmentally sensitive areas. Not all farmed fish are bad you just have to ask more questions.
There are 4 types of fish farming set ups. It is called Aquaculture. It is the fastest growing seafood sector. Different ones have a different impact on environment and if we are talking fish it is worth knowing where your fish come from.
Open Aquaculture. These are sea cages with active feeding. They are floating mesh cages anchored to the sea floor. Problem is more fish are killed (and used as feed pellets) than are actually bred in the farms. There are also problems with disease, parasite and faecal waste.
Open To Eat Aquaculture with Sticks and Ropes. This is done with passive feeding and is used for shellfish like mussels and oysters. There are no fish pellets. There is little impact on environment and it is sustainable.
Semiclosed Aquaculture - This is land based fish farming however there is an exchange between the farm and the ocean. It is often used for prawns. One issue is 1-3kg of feed produces 1kg of prawns.
Closed Aquaculture- This is an inland fish farm. They use filtering to keep the water clean. This could be a way of the future as it has no environmental impact on oceans. It still has issues with pellets and what is in pellets and which fish are used to make pellets?
Fishing in Ocean and Rivers
When ocean fishing is done in the oceans with huge dredging, nets, pots and long lining there is impact on the oceans marine life. Best fishing is good old fashioned pole and line fishing or dive fishing. Even better do your own fishing. A great thing about doing your own fishing is you are eating local fish, a diversity of fish, fresh fish and caring more for the environment - the perfect choice but not always something we have time or circumstances to do.
Canned fish can be both sustainable and healthy. For instance Salmon in a can can be bought Wild Caught and Wild Alaskan and this is very healthy and the fishing is monitored really well. Canned Sardines are healthy and sustainable. Canned Mackerel is low mercury fish and sustainable fish. Spring water is desirable or fish in an olive oil base, not canola oil. Tuna is not a fish I suggest due to mercury levels however canned tuna is better than fresh ocean tuna as it is said to be caught as smaller fish so has a lower mercury level than ocean tuna. I still avoid Tuna and when testing it on individuals it does not come up positive for health.
If in doubt bring in your canned fish to your consultation and your practitioner can discuss it with you.
Smoked fish is not ideal as a healthy fish so keep it for a treat food. If you have had cancer or being treated for cancer please avoid smoked fish.
Mercury is a heavy metal toxin that is commonly found in particularly bigger fish like tuna and shark. The smaller the fish the least amount of mercury it has. Mercury in the oceans is caused by industrial pollutions and is higher in the fish that live longer. In our bodies it can cause hormonal issues effecting fertility, thyroid, neurological conditions etc.
Another toxin in fish is PCBS.
Some people get mercury from dental fillings especially if grinding teeth. It is a good idea to choose fish with a lower mercury level.
Fish to avoid: Shark/ Flake, Tuna( Ahi, Yellowfin, Big eye, Canned Albacore), Orange Roughy/Sea Perch, Billfish ( swordfish, Marlin and Broadbill), Catfish, Bluefish, Grouper, Sea Bass, Tilefish
Ideas and Solutions
Sardines- one of the most sustainable fish, high in omega 3 and low in mercury. Sardines are great for bone health and ligaments. Classified as seafood watch best choice. They are great for vitamin D and quick to reproduce and bounce back from over fishing.
Atlantic Mackerel (Purse Seine) Purse Seine is a form of catching where it allows for top sustainability without disturbing the ocean floor or killing other creatures. Do not eat King, Spanish or Gulf Mackerel as this is high in mercury
Fresh water Coho salmon – these are farmed in a closed land based tank so there is no disease spread to wild salmon.
Salmon Wild Caught from Alaska. Even if you get this in a can, this is very healthy and if canned is a more economical way of eating the right fish. Alaskan waters have biologists posted at the river mouths counting and monitoring the fish caught and they are closed and opened by the biologist to look after the numbers.
If you buy farmed salmon buy the NZ farmed salmon.
Tuna is not a healthy fish unless it is the Albacore Tuna and fished via troll or pole caught way. I do not think even canned Tuna is ok
Barramundi is cost effective sustainable. Weirdly though the farmed barramundi like the Humpty Doo Farm is an inland farm and the mercury content is lower.
Crabs, mussels and oysters are very sustainable
Prawns – I think prawns from Queensland are better as they are snap frozen.
Southern calamari - sustainable, low mercury and yummy
Blue Grenedier - economical, low mercury and sustainable
Whiting – A low mercury fish and sustainable
Read some of Josh Niland’s book on whole fish. We waste so much of the fish when cooking. Waste is not good for the sustainability of fishing. I have even been using the fish head and fish bones which are great for fish bone broth.
Don’t decide on a fish recipe and make a shopping list. Be open to the catch of the day and then design your meal around it. Ask your fish monger how to prepare it and get ideas. Google ideas. Be creative. You learn by cooking and eating them. Eat more variety of fish and try and eat local fish. Shop around.
Refs: You Tube: organic Fish Farming. Alexandra Martin Marine Biologist Activist.