Guidelines for Buying Fish | Food & Water Watch
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Guidelines for Buying Fish

There are many resources out there from federal agency warnings to various seafood guides. A number of environmental organizations release detailed recommendations on which fish to enjoy and which to avoid.

Food & Water Watch recommends that consumers consider the environmental impacts, socioeconomic issues and consumer health implications into consideration when choosing your seafood. Here are our top ten suggestions, followed by more detailed information.

  • Look for wild-caught fish (with some exceptions)! Wild fish often are associated with fewer health risks for consumers than most farm-raised fish because they aren’t grown in large crowded cages with antibiotics and pesticides. Wild-caught fish aren’t always perfect though – some species may contain higher levels of mercury, so women of child-bearing age and parents of children should be careful about which fish they choose. To avoid mercury and still eat wild, see tip number 2. Also, some wild fish populations are at low levels from poor management or fishing gear used to catch them may cause environmental damage – so ask your market and restaurants about which wild fish are well managed and are caught using more sustainable methods.
  • Eat lower on the food chain—that means eat some smaller fish. Eating lower on the food chain reduces pressure on large, long-living fish whose populations are depleted and take a long time to mature. It also reduces your chances of exposure to contaminants.  Chemicals and heavy metals build up over time in organisms— so longer-living, big, fish tend to have higher levels of mercury and other problem chemicals than the smaller, shorter-lived species.
  • Avoid farm-raised finfish, especially salmon. These fish are often grown in large overcrowded cages that can harm wild fish and the environment, and are dosed with chemicals that can cause human health problems.  These large businesses often overtake independent fishermen and out them out of business, hurting smaller-scale, local fishing communities.
  • Buy local. The shorter the distance food travels to get to your table, the less fuel is used to get it to you.  You’ll also have a higher chance of supporting traditional fishing communities and getting fresher seafood.
  • Buy domestic. Domestic seafood often complies with better health, safety, environmental and labor standards. And of course, you help the U.S. economy that way.
  • Choose U.S. wild or U.S. land-based farmed shrimp. Avoid imported farm-raised shrimp. From 2003 to 2006, shrimp accounted for between 15 and 84 percent of imports that were refused at the United States border for being contaminated with illegal chemical residues. But, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only inspects less than two percent of seafood imports, meaning a large amount of contaminated shrimp could be reaching U.S. consumers.
  • Eat a variety of fish – don’t stick to just one type. By doing so, your exposure to possible seafood contaminants can be reduced. This also helps to reduce pressure on wild fish that have become over-popular seafood choices.
  • Ask where your seafood comes from before you buy – you have a right to know! This will also make the restaurants and shops pay attention to what they buy and they will know that consumers care about the source of their seafood. Learn about your seafood and share your knowledge with others.

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