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The Ethics of Consumption
Since 2004, major supermarkets have been required to label all unprocessed seafood with its country of origin and to indicate whether it was farm-raised or caught in the wild. But you can’t always judge a fish by its packaging. Salmon labeled "Atlantic salmon," for instance, is almost always farmed, while canned tuna is always ocean caught. And those distinctions can make all the difference to the environment.

Domestically farmed shrimp, for example, is a far better choice than imported. It’s the most popular seafood in America, but 90 percent of the shrimp we eat originates abroad, mostly from Asia and Central America, where environmental regulations are sorely lacking. To make way for lucrative shrimp farms, for instance, more than 35 percent of Thailand’s coastal wetlands have been cleared since 1986—resulting in the loss of a protective barrier the country’s coast desperately needs. Many overseas operations also rely heavily on strong chemicals, such as antibiotics to help speed shrimp growth. That not only wreaks havoc on the marine environment—it also harms the consumer. Just last summer, the Food and Drug Administration banned five major types of farm-raised seafood from China, including shrimp, after test results turned up overwhelming amounts of contamination from antibiotics and carcinogens.

The FDA is charged with regulating the safety of all food brought into the U.S., but given the agency’s staffing and budget restrictions, Fitzgerald says, it actually inspects less than one percent of all imports. That leaves room for a lot of contaminated seafood to sneak into the country—and onto your grocery shelves. To be safe, stick to shrimp farmed in the U.S. or caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

International and domestic farms for salmon—the third most popular seafood in the States—have also come under scrutiny. As Sheila Bowman of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program puts it, "Dogs are nice, but imagine 100,000 of them showing up in your neighborhood one day." That, she says, is what it’s like for wild fish when a farm net breaks and hordes of farmed fish are released into native waters. A 2008 study at Halifax-based Dalhousie University found more than a 50 percent reduction of the wild population when farmed are introduced. Your best bet? Wild Alaskan salmon. "Alaska is the most naturally sustainable salmon fishery in the world," says Henry Lovejoy, owner of EcoFish, Inc., a pioneering sustainable seafood company. "There are virtually no contaminants. That’s what I recommend when people say, Just give me one sustainable fish I should eat." Sound expensive? It doesn’t have to be: It’s available canned, like tuna.

Next: Why Bother

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