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The Best Sustainable Fish to Eat in the Summer

July 11th, 2014
Center for Food Safety

We don’t typically think of seafood as seasonal. If you go to the supermarket, many types of fish are available year-round. But not all seafood is created equal. If you care about fresh seafood, sustainable fisheries and protecting our oceans – and eating fish that is healthier for you and your family -- it pays to know what fish are in season.

Five Tips to Choosing Sustainable Seafood

  1. Choose local seafood if possible, and always choose domestic over imported
  2. Choose wild
  3. If it’s farmed, choose seafood that is from the U.S., especially in low- or no- output, recirculating systems
  4. Favor fish caught by hook and line, handline, troll (not to be confused with “trawl” fishing, which can be very destructive), jig or speargun
  5. Avoid fish that are high in mercury, PCBs or farmed fish that are given antibiotics[1]

Best Fish to Eat in Summer

West Coast East Coast
Abalone (farmed) Mahi Mahi (troll, pole)
Albacore Tuna (troll, pole) Shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams) (farmed)
Dungeness Crab Snapper (preferably Yellowtail)
King Salmon (AK) (pole, troll) Stone Crab
Oregon Pink Shrimp Striped Bass ( also known as Rockfish) (hook & line, farmed)
Pacific Cod (hook & line, longline & trap) Swordfish (harpoon, troll, pole)
Pacific Halibut Yellowfin Tuna (troll, pole)
Rainbow Trout (farmed)  
Sablefish (also known as Black Cod or Butterfish) (Alaska wild)  
Salmon (Alaska wild)  
Sardines (Pacific) (US wild-caught)  
Shellfish (mussles, oysters, clams (farmed)  
Striped Bass (also known as Rockfish) (hook & line or farmed)  
White Seabass (hook & line)  


Fish to Avoid

West Coast East Coast
Orange Roughy Orange Roughy
Atlantic (farmed) Salmon Atlantic (farmed) Salmon
Sharks Sharks
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
  Atlantic Cod






Why should you care?

Much of the fish available today in the United States is imported, and frequently from places where health and environmental standards are weak or non-existent. Regulation of the fishing industry worldwide is poorly enforced, and less than 2 percent of seafood imports to the U.S. are inspected for contamination.[1]

Shipping fish around the world has a negative impact on the climate, but it can have an even greater impact on our oceans. With nearly 85% of the world’s fisheries overfished, our seafood choices are more important than ever.[2] Decades of overfishing have driven many fish populations to levels so low that recovery is a long-term proposition.

Farm raised or wild-caught?

Aquaculture, the farming of fish and seafood, has resulted in a far-reaching variety of environmental consequences, including the escape of farmed fish from their containment that threatens native wild fish populations; the spread of deadly diseases and parasites; and the pollution of our oceans from the inputs and outputs of fish farming.  Though presented by the industry as a “solution” to over-fishing, the overwhelming evidence is that aquaculture is not relieving any pressures on wild fisheries.[3]

Studies have also found farmed fish to be less healthful than their wild counterparts. Industrial aquaculture raises significant human health and food safety concerns. Fish farms frequently use antibiotics to control disease in their crowded pens, and PCBs accumulate in farmed fish at a higher rate than wild fish. PCBs can cause significant health concerns for both humans and the environment, and are associated with increased the risk of cancer, disrupting the endocrine system, and contributing to developmental and reproductive problems.[4] The best way to avoid antibiotics and PCBs in your seafood is to choose wild fish over farmed.

What about shellfish?

While wild fish are more sustainable than farmed fish, farmed shellfish can be sustainable on a small scale. Mussels, oysters and clams are filter feeders, which means that they clean water and can help improve local environments. Just remember to ask about harvest methods and local contaminant warnings.

I buy organic fruits and vegetables. Is organic salmon better?

There are no legal organic standards for seafood in the U.S., so fish labeled “organic” are always imported and are farmed, not wild-caught,[5] and do not necessary adhere to U.S. standards for organic.

What about mercury?

Another health concern in fish is mercury -- mercury pollution is produced by coal-fired power plants and other industrial processes, is found in oceans and contaminates fish. The best way to reduce exposure to mercury is to reduce your consumption of predatory or long-lived fish, such as swordfish and tuna, Chilean sea bass and grouper.[6]

Genetically Engineered Fish

No GE fish are currently on the market, but at least 35 species of fish are currently being genetically engineered around the world, including trout, catfish, tilapia, striped bass, flounder, and many species of salmon. The only GE fish known to be proposed for commercial approval in the U.S. is the AquAdvantage® GE Atlantic Salmon, which is currently under review for commercial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Genetically engineered fish pose irreparable risks to wild populations of fish and our marine environment. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE fish into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.[7] GE salmon also poses health risks to consumers. Some research has suggested that transgenic fish, including that presented by the FDA for the approval of the AquAdvantage salmon, may be susceptible to more diseases than fish currently grown in aquaculture facilities.[8]  Consequently, the amount of antibiotics given to transgenic fish may be even higher than the amount currently given to farmed fish.

For a list of companies who have stated that they will not carry GE salmon if they are approved, check out our Guide to Avoiding GE Fish.

Can I join a Community Supported Fishery?

Community supported fisheries (CSFs), which follow the same model as community supported agriculture in providing local seafood directly to consumers, are an excellent option if you live in a coastal state. CSFs significantly shorten the distance seafood travels to be sold, encourage fishers to use less destructive fishing methods, and distribute highly abundant stocks and bycatch that are discarded by industrialized fisheries.[9] They create a market for locally plentiful seafood that would otherwise be ignored. Eating a variety of seafood types also reduces exposure to contaminants and lowers pressure on over-popular choices.

Ready for some great summer fish recipes?  Click here!

For more information on healthy and sustainable seafood, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, NRDC’s guide to mercury in fish, Food and Water Watch’s Smart Seafood Guide.

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[12] William Muir et al., Possible ecological risks of transgenic organism release when transgenes affect mating success: Sexual selection and the Trojan gene hypothesis, 96 PNAS 13853-13856, at 13853 (Nov. 23, 1999).

[13] Rebecca Goldberg and Tracy Triplett. Murky Waters: The Environmental Effects of Aquaculture in the U.S. (p 44). Environmental Defense Fund (1997).