Northern anchovy is native to Pacific waters from Alaska to the Gulf of California in Mexico, though 95% of all landings come from the coast of California. Although not much is known about the size of the stock, it appears to be in a healthy state, as landings have remained stable and increased in recent years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. imports all anchovies intended for human consumption, and almost all of the anchovies that are caught in the United States are used for bait.

Asian carp, as they are known in the United States, actually includes several different species, including the bighead, black and silver carp. Asian carp species are not bottomfeeders, and so are generally lower in contaminants than the common carp. Although the FDA has not yet evaluated these fish for contaminants, they are believed to be low in mercury. These fish are native to Asia and were brought to the United States primarily by catfish farmers in the 1970s to control algal blooms in aquaculture ponds.

Today, Asian carp have spread through major waterways from the Southeast through sporadic flooding events, and have moved toward the Great Lakes regions. Asian carp are a problem because they are prolific spawners, grow and mature quickly, and feed on both plant and animal plankton. Silver carp, for example, may consume two to three times their own body weight in algae and phytoplankton each day — throwing off ecosystem balance. Asian carp may compete with other native fish populations in the lakes and ponds of the Midwest.

Asian carp can be caught with cast nets, hand nets or occasionally on hook and line.

Asian or Japanese shore crab is native to parts of Russia and Japan, but has become invasive along the East Coast, from Maine through North Carolina. It was probably introduced into the United States by international ship travel. Asian shore crabs are small, usually measuring not more than an inch and a half across, but are opportunistic feeders and will consume small fish, crustaceans, algae and anything else they come across. Its primary negative impact as an invasive species is displacement of native crab populations, as it competes for similar habitat to native blue crab, rock crab, and lobster.

Asian swamp eels are native to many parts of Asia, and are currently listed as invasive in three states: Hawai`i, Georgia, and Florida. In New Jersey, their status is listed as unknown but they have recently been found there The eels’ introduction to the wild probably took place accidentally in the Southeast (from an aquarium or fish farm escape) and they may have been introduced as a food fish in Hawai`i by immigrants. They have no known predators in North America. The eels are highly adaptive, can live in just a few inches of water, and can travel short distances on dry land. They are predators, feeding on insects, worms, fish, crustaceans and small amphibians — but can also survive for weeks without food. All of these traits make them especially risky as an invasive species. In particular, there is concern that populations of Asian swamp eels have been found within a mile of Florida’s Everglades National Park; if these eels manage to establish themselves in that sensitive ecosystem, it could displace threatened native populations and vegetation. It is a popular food fish in Asian cuisine and has a meaty texture.

*Contaminants unknown, no incidents reported.es

Bluefin tuna poses a very high health risk due to high levels of both mercury and PCB contamination.

Bluefin tuna are internationally overfished, nearly to levels of extinction. They are believed to be 80% or more below their original abundance levels.The eastern and western Atlantic Ocean stocks to which bluefin tuna are native are listed as “endangered,” and “critically endangered,” respectively, in the IUCN Redlist of the world’s most threatened species.Recent efforts in late 2009 to list the bluefin tuna in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – which would have restricted trade or capture of the bluefin tuna – failed, lacking political support from industrial fishing nations.

Tuna are typically caught with a variety of gears in different fisheries, including pelagic longlines, troll gear and purse seines. Pelagic longlines are known to threaten endangered birds and marine mammals, which can become entangled in the gear. Many tuna fleets are international, and there are no effective international laws established to regulate ecological impacts. Bluefin tuna is one of Food and Water Watch’s Dirty Dozen.

The primary types of squid caught in the United States are Atlantic longfin squid, Atlantic shortfin squid, and Pacific market squid. Squid grow and reproduce quickly, making them less susceptible to overfishing than many species. Longfin squid grow and reproduce rapidly, making them less susceptible to overfishing than many fish species. Their population levels are currently high. Atlantic trap or net-caught longfin squid and Pacific market squid are better choices than shortfin squid, because shortfin squid’s stock status is unknown, and the U.S. fishery consists primarily of bottom trawling. Squid is caught using a variety of gear types, including traps, nets, trawls and roundhaul gear, which encircles schools of squid in a net. Traps and roundhaul gear result in a relatively small amount of bycatch (capture of non-target species) and habitat damage, whereas trawls can damage habitats by removing or covering animal and plant life. The Atlantic longfin squid fishery is mainly composed of small-mesh bottom trawlers, but during the spring and summer the squid are also fished using traps and nets.

Barramundi is a tropical whitefish that is usually farmed in closed recirculating systems in the U.S., which conserve resources by re-circulating the water and treating effluent (waste) before it leaves the facility to limit pollution. No therapeutics or hormones are utilized in U.S. facilities, and they have no detectable mercury levels. Barramundi are fed a mostly vegetarian diet, and the small amount of fishmeal they consume comes partially from herring byproducts – so they are actually net protein producers, with a conversion of about .9 pounds of wild fish to produce 1 pound of farmed fish. Therefore, farming of barramundi in the U.S. does not deplete the wild fish stock as does farming of many other species that that require higher levels of fish protein in their diet. However, international production of barramundi is not as strictly regulated. Look for a U.S.-raised product.

 Black cod is the commonly used market name for sablefish on the Pacific Coast – although true black cod is actually a different type of fish.  This fish is high in healthy omega-3s and relatively low in mercury and PCBs for a fish of its size and lifespan. Sablefish is most abundant in the Gulf of Alaska, where it is caught primarily by longline, but it is also caught off of California, Oregon and Washington. The Alaskan and Pacific populations are stable and have not been overfished, although the Pacific population is 4 percent under its target. Both longline and trawl gear are used in the sablefish fishery; longlines can harm seabirds, but measures have been taken to reduce their entanglement in the gear. Sablefish is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish

 

Catfish is farmed in many southeastern states in the U.S. Chemical usage on catfish farms is regulated much more stringently here than in other countries. Catfish do not need wild fish to be included in their diet, so farming them does not deplete wild fish populations, as does farming of many other species. U.S.-farmed catfish are not given any added hormones, and under normal growing conditions they are antibiotic-free. Most, catfish growers practice alternative methods of disease treatment to avoid the use of antibiotics, which are expensive and hard to obtain. Because catfish produce more waste when they are overfed, it is in both the economic and environmental interest of catfish farmers to avoid excess feeding. Waste produced by catfish in ponds typically sinks to the sediment in the bottom of the pond quite quickly, is broken down, and causes minimal impact to the environment. Ponds are often sited on or near cropland, and typically designed to capture rainwater to minimize the need for water to be pumped in. They are rarely drained.

  Unlike the Atlantic cod stock, which collapsed in the early 1990s and is currently undergoing overfishing. Pacific cod are not overfished nor are they undergoing overfishing. The populations of Pacific cod are healthy in both the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska is considered healthy. To prevent depletion, the fishery is managed with seasonal closures and a total allowable catch. The management plan includes federal, state and tribal regulations, and both academics and environmental groups have been involved in its development and frequent revisal. Pacific cod are caught with trawls, longlines and pots. Pots (traps) generally result in less bycatch or habitat damage than longlines, but both are preferable to trawls, which can damage the habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life, and may also result in the catch of other marine wildlife.

 

Rock crabs, also known as “peekytoe” crabs, are like Jonah crabs in that they are often trapped in lobster pots, and were once considered to be pesky unwanted catch (bycatch) for many years. Now they, too, are recognized as a valuable product, and lobstermen keep and sell them. Because rock crab is an emerging fishery, the stock status is unknown, although research suggests the species is relatively resilient to fishing pressure. To protect population levels, in the U.S. only males may be caught and kept. The lobster pots and traps that catch rock crabs result in a small amount of unwanted catch (bycatch). There is some concern about the threats that traps pose to whales, which may become entangled in lines, but the industry has taken steps to minimize this risk.

Golden crab is caught in a small fishery on the Atlantic coast of Florida. A management plan for golden crab was created at the request of the fishermen, who wanted to ensure the sustainability of the resource. Only traps, which result in very little bycatch, are used, and all the females are released so that they can continue to reproduce. The traps are placed on soft-bottom areas where they have relatively little impact on the seafloor.

For many years, Jonah crabs, like rock/”peekytoe” crabs, were caught accidentally in lobster pots and considered nuisances. A common practice was to kill crabs found in lobster pots before throwing them back in the sea. Recently, Jonah crabs have become more valuable commercially, and they are now kept and sold. Because Jonah crab is a new fishery, the stock status is unknown. To protect population levels, only males are caught and kept. The pots and traps that catch Jonah crabs result in a small amount of unwanted marine life (bycatch), mostly lobsters and female or undersized crabs. There is some concern about the threats that traps pose to whales, which may become entangled in lines, but the industry has taken steps to minimize this risk.

Dogfish is actually a type of shark, and is very high in mercury, which can pose a health risk. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish/ Women and children are recommended to avoid dogfish, and men should limit consumption to one serving per month. 

Dogfish is commonly used as the fish component in European “fish and chips” – it’s also sometimes referred to as “rock salmon” throughout Europe. Dogfish is not especially popular in U.S. markets.  It is native to the Atlantic Ocean from the mid-Atlantic up through New England.  Dogfish populations have spiked and crashed several times in the last few decades; currently they are no longer overfished, nor is overfishing known to be occurring.   However, dogfish can take 5 to 10 years to mature, which makes them more vulnerable to depletion.  Furthermore, the most recent population crash in the late 1990s has left the stock with a skewed sex ratio of males to females at 4 to 1, making reproduction challenging. There is also a gap in the existing stock of middle-aged females, which means that there will likely be a decrease in the population by 2017 as there will be fewer females of reproductive age contributing to the population at that time.  Dogfish are most often caught with bottom trawls, a method that can damage the seafloor and organisms living there, like coral and seaweed.  They are also sometimes caught by the use of seines, gillnets, and hook-and-line gear.  

Note:  This research is primarily based on spiny dogfish.  Smooth dogfish is a cousin of the spiny dogfish, and lives in warmer waters, but is associated with similar issues as those related to spiny dogfish.  Smooth dogfish, in addition to having high mercury content, is more frequently targeted for “finning” – removal of the shark’s fin and the rest of the fish thrown back in the ocean to die – for use in shark fin soup, an East Asian specialty.  This practice for most sharks is banned in many states and countries.  However, shark finning of smooth dogfish was recently reauthorized in the U.S. mid-Atlantic.

Red drum (also called redfish) has moderate levels of mercury, which generally increase in proportion with the size of the fish.  Red drum may also contain some levels of PCBs, which can vary depending on the site at which the fish was caught.  Eating habits of red drum change with age, and although they feed on zooplankton and small invertebrates while young, as they get bigger, they tend to eat more and larger fish.  Although current size limits in all states help prevent exposure to high mercury content in the fish,  consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of this fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish

Red drum is a popular recreational fish that occurs along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts south to Key West, Florida. While the status of the stock has not been analyzed recently on the Atlantic Coast, it is believed to be overfished, and overfishing may still be occurring, as current size limits result primarily in the capture of immature juveniles.  Over 85% of annual catch is recreational; the only significant commercial fishery for red drum is in North Carolina, where it is only allowed as unintentional catch (bycatch). In the Gulf of Mexico no definition of “overfished” has been established for red drum and population levels are unknown. 

The European eel is known to have very high concentrations of PCB contaminants, chemical toxins that pose a health risk to adults and children. They are native to almost all coasts along Europe down to northern Africa and up to Iceland. European eels have been listed as critically endangered since the early 1980s, with populations at 1 to 5% of normal, pre-fishing levels.  However, they continue to be captured for grow-out in aquaculture operations, as they are extremely valuable commercially, especially in sushi products. Farmed eel also have other contamination concerns, as they are susceptible to bacterial infections, viruses and parasites, and so are treated with antibiotics and sometimes formaldehyde for various ailments. They are wild-caught at all ages, mostly using pots and traps, but also occasionally with trawls, electric gear and spears.  The eel’s long life cycle and slow maturation render it vulnerable to overfishing, as European eels do not reach sexual maturity until between the ages of 10 and 20. European eel are imported to the U.S, most commonly for use in sushi restaurants, where it is called unagi.

Atlantic flounder and halibut may contain levels of PCBs contamination that pose a health risk to adults and children. 

Due to heavy fishing in the region, many Atlantic flatfish stocks are low. Flounder are most frequently caught using bottom or otter trawls, nets that drag along the seafloor, that can damage habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life. This method of fishing can catch many non-target species that are often discarded, dead or dying, after they are brought to the surface.  

Most other Atlantic flatfish stocks are also seriously overfished. Atlantic halibut has been overfished off the coast of the Northeastern United States since the 1800’s. Despite management practices that currently prevent targeted fishing of Atlantic halibut and attempt to reduce bycatch of the species, the fishery has not recovered. Yellowtail flounder is drastically overfished, and management has not prevented overfishing from occurring continually. The population levels are between 1 and 9 percent of what they should be for sustainable catch levels. Though summer flounder is no longer considered to be overfished, its population has not yet been fully recovered. Winter flounder is divided into three populations for management purposes. Two of these are severely overfished with overfishing still occurring, and stock status is unknown in the third. 

Atlantic flatfish are on Food & Water Watch’s Dirty Dozen.

Flounder may contain levels of PCB contamination that pose a health risk to adults and children. 

Flounder are most frequently caught using bottom or otter trawls, nets that drag along the seafloor, that can damage habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life.  This method of fishing can catch many non-target species that are often discarded, dead or dying, after they are brought to the surface.  Most Atlantic flounder stocks are also very overfished. Yellowtail flounder is extremely overfished, and management has not prevented overfishing from occurring continually. The population levels are only between 1 and 9 percent of what they should be for sustainable catch. Though summer flounder is no longer considered to be overfished, its population has not yet been fully recovered. Winter flounder is divided into three populations for management purposes. Two of these are severely overfished with overfishing still occurring, and stock status is unknown in the third.

Geoduck clams (pronounced gooey-duck) are native to the Pacific Northwest, and are also commercially produced by large shellfish farming operations. Because they grow to be very large and are long-lived in comparison to most other shellfish, high levels of certain contaminants such as arsenic and mercury may build up in geoduck clam meat.  All clams are filter feeders, which means that they pull nutrients out of the water to eat – so no wild-caught fish is used in their feed. Clam farming does not deplete wild fish used in fish feed as does farming of many other species that use fish protein in their diet.  Geoducks are grown to a very large size – generally up to three pounds – and extensive collection practices may ensnare other marine creatures and seabirds, limit public access to tidelands and coastal areas, and disrupt coastal habitat and important breeding grounds for juvenile fish.

Grouper may contain levels of mercury that pose a health risk to adults and children. 

Grouper populations are almost universally in decline. It is estimated that the Nassau grouper population has sustained a decline of 60% over the last three generations (27-30 years). Its populations are overfished and overfishing is occurring in the Caribbean, and U.S. fishery management councils have now banned fishing for Nassau grouper. Red grouper population numbers have fluctuated over time, with peak abundance occurring during the 1940s or 1950s. Red grouper is overfished, with continuing overexploitation in the South Atlantic. Although populations have rebounded in the Gulf of Mexico, the biomass is still only at 86 percent of its target level. Gag grouper is only at 40 percent of the target population in the Gulf of Mexico, and overfishing continues to occur. In the South Atlantic, stocks are healthy, but it continues to be overexploited. Grouper are a long-lived and slow-growing fish that do not reproduce until later in life, making their recovery from overfishing a challenge.,,  Dependent on gear type, there can be a number of non-target fish and other wildlife, like sea turtles, caught as bycatch when fishing for grouper.  

 Haddock is a whitefish popular in New England cuisine and frequently found in traditional fish and chips. It is thought to be low in contaminants. Since 2004, haddock stocks have rebounded from previously declining levels, with the help of various management efforts. Now, their populations are not considered to be overfished, and overexploitation is not occurring. Of the two major stocks of haddock in New England, one, the Georges Bank population, has now reached twice its level, and the other, the Gulf of Maine population, is at 99 percent of its target level. Haddock is primarily caught with trawls, which can damage the seafloor, cover or remove animal and plant life, and catch large amounts of bycatch (non-target species).  Improvements to trawl design since 2007 have greatly reduced the amount of bycatch caught in haddock dragnets, and this is a positive step for the fishery.  Haddock can also be caught by hook and line, which often is associated with less bycatch and reduced habitat damage.

Atlantic silver hake, also known as Atlantic whiting, is a popular whitefish caught in the northeastern U.S., from Maine to Virginia.  This fish is low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.  With good management efforts, the stock is recovering from persistent overfishing by foreign fleets in the 1960s and 1970s.  As a result of fishing pressure, populations of hake are skewed, and there are fewer older fish than there would be in a natural (unfished) population.  Despite this, silver hake are no longer considered to be overfished or over-exploited. However, hake are most commonly captured with bottom otter trawls, nets that drag along the seafloor, that can damage bottom habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life.  This fishing method also can result in the unintended capture of many other types of marine life (bycatch).  Although very little research has been done on bycatch levels related to hake fishing, it is believed that certain types of Atlantic groundfish are accidentally captured by the trawls, and many of these are already overfished.

Halibut is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish.

Pacific halibut populations, including those in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, have been monitored and managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) for almost 100 years. Although Pacific halibut are not officially deemed overfished, the IPHC has found through regular assessments that the exploitable (catchable) biomass has declined by 60 percent in the past ten years and that the fish being caught are much smaller than they used to be. These are both potential indicators for excessive fishing pressure. The IPHC has allowed for reduced commercial limits on the number of halibut that can be landed, and recreational fishermen may only catch one halibut per trip. Both of these restrictions are intended to prevent overfishing of halibut – and are signs of attentive management, however biomass has continued to decline between the start and end of 2011, indicating that these measures are not sufficient. A large part of the problem is not just the directed halibut fishery, but also bycatch of halibut in other fisheries (which results in the fishes removal and mortality) and charter fishing, issues which have been examined and addressed in California, Washington and Oregon, but are still ongoing in Alaska. Fishing for halibut is limited to hook-and-line capture, which usually results in minimal habitat damage, and all halibut captured by other means must be returned to the sea. Halibut landings and bycatch are carefully monitored and trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea are often limited by calculations related to bycatch mortality. For these reasons, there is hope that the population will rebound in the future, but Alaska will have to take further measures to address bycatch and charter fishing first.

Note: Atlantic halibut populations have been heavily overfished through the 19th and early 20th centuries, and have not recovered. Currently, the Atlantic halibut direct fishery is closed. Atlantic halibut is only caught accidentally when fishing for other types of fish.  For more information, see “Flatfish, Atlantic.”

Herring is a small schooling fish that lives throughout the waters of the North Atlantic from North Carolina up to Canada.  It is very low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Atlantic herring is a keystone species; this means it is a primary food source for many predator fish (those that eat other fish), marine mammals and seabirds. Therefore, it is important to maintain the stock at a healthy level, or else the entire local ecology can be disrupted. The population of herring, which is often sold as a canned product (similar to sardines), collapsed in the 1970s due to over-exploitation. With no joint management schemes implemented between the United States and Canada, the stock made strong recoveries between 1982 and 1997. Management authorities write that it has since “fluctuated without trend,” but, in fact, the biomass has made an overall slight decline between 1997 and 2009 (the most recent surveys). Although the stock is no longer considered to overfished or undergoing over-exploitation, it is worth keeping in mind that the biomass is still only around 60 percent of what it was before the 1970s. Additionally, herring is most frequently caught by paired midwater trawls, a catch method in which two boats tow a widely spread net between them to entrap the small fish.  Although called “midwater” trawling, herring nets in the Atlantic are typically dragged within several feet of the ocean’s bottom, which can be damaging to ocean habitat and may also result in bycatch of “species of concern,” including depleted Atlantic cod and other groundfish.  Consolidation of the large paired midwater trawling industry has pushed out smaller-scale fishermen, many of whom use purse seines, which are associated with fewer ecological impacts. 

Hogfish may be contaminated with a tropical marine toxin that causes ciguatera, a serious foodborne illness that improves with time but has no cure.  Ciguatera is found in tropical reef fish, and cannot be cooked out of food. Be sure to ask at restaurants whether your tropical fish has been tested for the presence of this toxin. If you choose to eat tropical reef fish, consuming small portions and selecting smaller-sized fish may help you avoid the more serious side effects of this toxin.
The population of hogfish, as a whole, is unknown, but biomass in small regions has continued to grow over the last few decades. Hogfish are caught primarily by spear fishing, a selective fishing method that is widely considered to cause little damage to the environment or the catch of non-target species. This fish may also be caught by rod-and-reel and hand lines, which also are considered more ecologically friendly. They too usually leave minimal impact on the marine environment and result in higher survival rates for non-target species accidentally caught.

Food & Water Watch Seafood Guide Smarter Choice American or “Maine” lobster is found in the northwest Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina up through Canada. It is moderately low in contaminants like mercury, but consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish. It should also be noted that lobster meat spoils rapidly, so lobster is often kept alive until just before serving. Freezing can slow the deterioration of the meat. American lobster is of very high socioeconomic importance to the North Atlantic coast, and is one of the top commercial fisheries in that region. While the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank lobster stock abundance estimates are at healthy levels, the Southern New England stock is depleted and continues to suffer from overfishing. Lobsters are typically caught in traps or pots, which are often associated with minimal impacts to ocean habitat, but can capture non-target marine wildlife (bycatch) such as cod, black sea bass, eels, flounder, crabs and conch. There is some concern about the threats that traps pose to certain whales, which may become entangled in the lines. Of most concern are the highly endangered right whale populations, which are believed to number only about 300-400 in the wild. Reports of entanglement to government authorities and scar analyses indicate that 45 to 60 right whales are entangled in lobster lines each year – though not all of these interactions are fatal. The lobster industry has taken steps to minimize this risk.

Caribbean or Gulf spiny lobster is commonly sought by both commercial and recreational fishermen in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and other tropical countries along the Western Atlantic as far south as Brazil. Spiny lobster is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish/. Lobster meat spoils rapidly so should be consumed quickly upon death of the creature to avoid the release of chemicals that follow lobster death. Freezing can slow the deterioration.

Spiny lobster is typically caught in traps or pots, which are often associated with minimal damage to ocean habitat, but can sometimes capture non-target wildlife (bycatch), particularly Gulf reef and ornamental fishes. Degradable panels are built into traps to eventually release any catch in case the traps are lost; this helps prevent the problem of “ghost fishing.” The size of the Caribbean spiny lobster population is not known, though commercial landings have fluctuated and declined in the last decade. There is some concern about the commercial practice of planting undersized spiny lobster (“shorts”) in traps in order to lure other lobsters into the cage – a practice that can result in mortality for the undersized lobster and harm the future health of the fishery.There is also some concern about the two-day recreational period preceding the commercial season during which an unlimited number of recreational divers can catch and retain up to 12 lobsters each; the total number of lobsters caught is not regulated or monitored by fishing authorities.

Unlike other types of mackerel, Atlantic mackerel is very low in contaminants. They mature at a young age and their feeding habits do not expose them to much contamination. Atlantic mackerel are found in the western Atlantic from Canada down to North Carolina. While it was overfished during the 1960s and 1970s, effective regulations helped the species rebound. Atlantic mackerel are mostly caught using purse seine nets that are set on specific schools of fish. Midwater trawling is another method used. Both of these techniques result in minimal interactions with bottom habitat and are associated with low levels of bycatch (the unintended capture of other types of marine life).

Both King and Spanish mackerel contain extremely high concentrations of mercury and may be contaminated with a tropical marine toxin that causes ciguatera, a serious foodborne illness that improves with time but has no cure.  Ciguatera is found in tropical reef fish, and cannot be cooked out of food. Be sure to ask at restaurants whether your tropical fish has been tested for the presence of this toxin. If you choose to eat tropical reef fish, consuming small portions and selecting smaller-sized fish may help you avoid the more serious side effects of this toxin.

King and Spanish mackerel, found in the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, are not believed to be overfished or undergoing over-exploitation, and are caught using more environmentally friendly methods such as hook-and-line and cast nets. Both of these techniques result in minimal interactions with bottom habitat and are associated with low levels of bycatch (the unintended capture of other types of marine life).

 Mahi-mahi is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish. 

Mahi-mahi, also known as dolphinfish or “el dorado,” is caught in the United States in the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Hawaii, and off the West Coast. Because mahi-mahi mature quickly, they are not highly susceptible to overfishing, nor to mercury and PCB contamination. Mahi-mahi can be caught with a variety of gear types. Troll- or hook-and-line-caught mahi-mahi is a best choice because this gear results in relatively minimal harm to other animals and the surrounding environment.  Because mahi-mahi is so resilient relative to other large fish, U.S. regulators have not mandated frequent assessment or monitoring of this species, which could become an issue of concern in the future. Fortunately, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is due to re-examine management in 2013, at which point we will be able to reconfirm that mahi-mahi has remained a sustainable choice or remove it from the recommendations. Mahi-mahi is also caught by international fleets that are not as well-managed as those in the U.S., and often use gear that can harm marine life and/or habitat, so knowing where the mahi came from is important.

Mangrove snapper (also called “gray” or “mango” snapper) is caught throughout the Gulf with hook-and-line or bottom longline. Hook-and-line and hand lines allow for non-target species to be released more quickly, improving survival chances, and cause less damage to the seafloor.  A bottom longline consists of a central line strung with many baited hooked lines and a weight of some type keeping the line in place.  This method can catch many non-target species and cause damage to the seafloor. Mangrove snapper mature and reproduce quickly, making stock depletion less of a threat.

A’u, also known as striped blue marlin, is a tropical fish in Hawaiian cuisine, and a popular recreational target.  It is often high in mercury, a toxic chemical that can be harmful to human health. Additionally, a’u may be contaminated with a tropical marine toxin that causes ciguatera, a serious foodborne illness that improves with time but has no cure.  Ciguatera is found in tropical reef fish, and cannot be cooked out of food. Be sure to ask at restaurants whether your tropical fish has been tested for the presence of this toxin. If you choose to eat tropical reef fish, consuming small portions and selecting smaller-sized fish may help you avoid the more serious side effects of this toxin.

The striped blue marlin is a highly migratory, predator fish found in the Pacific Islands and also off the Atlantic Coast.  Although it is fast growing, which usually helps protect from fishing pressure, the striped marlin is believed to be overfished around the Hawaiian islands.  Highly migratory fish are very difficult to monitor, so little is known about the size of the stock.  It is often caught accidentally, as bycatch, in the tuna and swordfish longline fisheries. Off the Atlantic coast, Blue Marlin is known to be overfished and currently exploited beyond sustainable levels. International cooperation is underway to enforce a more stringent management plan and rebuild the stock.  

Monchong is a deepwater fish, commonly known as pomfret, which is caught in the vicinity of Hawaii. It is not usually a targeted fishery, but is caught in small quantities as accidental catch (bycatch) by longliners fishing for tuna, and also by deep-water handlines. Little is known about the stock size of pomfret, or its biology; this makes an assessment of its ability to withstand fishing pressure unknown. Very little research has been done on contamination in this fish, as it is not commonly consumed outside of the Hawaiian region.

Monkfish and goosefish are deepwater fish related to anglerfish.  They are low in contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish. As a result of strict management measures, they are not being overfished.  Monkfish are frequently caught using bottom trawls, nets that drag along the seafloor, which can damage bottom habitat and remove or cover animals and plant life.  This fishing gear has also been associated with high amounts of bycatch; taking untargeted species such as skates and dogfish. 

Onaga is a deepwater ruby snapper (also known as ula’ula and longtail snapper) that is native to Hawaiian and other tropical waters, and is one of the islands’ most important commercial bottomfish. Although limited information is available on contamination levels in this particular species, most snappers are considered to have low to moderate mercury levels. Hawaiian onaga are deepwater line-caught, a method that results in minimal bycatch. Onaga are managed jointly with seven other species of fish known as the “Deep 7.” In 2005, federal regulators noted that the Deep 7 species complex had become overfished, and regulations were put in place to limit fishing.  Now the fishery is said to be recovering. However, because the species are managed jointly, it is impossible to know how the population of onaga, specifically, is faring, and whether it is recovering at the pace of the other species. Onaga populations take longer to reproduce and repopulate than someo fhte other Hawaiian bottomfish, including Opakapaka, putting them at some greater risk for overfishing, and the fact that the total catch of onaga has decreased since 2007 even as the total allowable catch has increased may be cause for concern. Until the stock status of onaga can be verified to be stable and not over-exploited, it cannot be verified as a sustainable choice.   

Opah, also known as moonfish, is a tropical species that is caught in Hawaiian waters. It is very high in mercury levels, and adults are not recommended to eat more than one serving of opah per month. Additionally, opah may be contaminated with a tropical marine toxin that causes ciguatera, a serious foodborne illness that improves with time but has no cure. Ciguatera is found in tropical reef fish, and cannot be cooked out of food. Be sure to ask at restaurants whether your tropical fish has been tested for the presence of this toxin. If you choose to eat tropical reef fish, consuming small portions and selecting smaller-sized fish may help you avoid the more serious side effects of this toxin.

Little is known about this wandering fish, and no assessment of the size of its population has been conducted. It has been caught increasingly in the past decade, perhaps due to increased fishing pressure on tunas in the region since they are often found together. Opah is not usually targeted by any major commercial fishery, but rather is caught incidentally in the longline fishery for tunas and swordfish. Its biology and life history are also not well understood.

Recommended alternatives to opah (also known as moonfish):
Atlantic mackerel
Barramundi, U.S. farmed
Black cod, Pacific U.S. (also known as sablefish)
Cod, Pacific (not trawl-caught)
Pompano
Salmon, U.S. wild-caught Alaska
Snapper, Mangrove or Gray
Tuna, Atlantic skipjack
Tuna, Pacific Albacore
Wreckfish

Opakapaka is a deepwater pink snapper that is native to Hawaiian and other tropical waters.  Although limited information is available on contamination levels in this particular species, most snappers are considered to have low to moderate mercury levels. Hawaiian opakapaka are deepwater line-caught, a fishing method that often results in minimal bycatch and habitat degradation. Opakapaka are managed jointly with seven other species of fish known as the “Deep 7.” In 2005, federal regulators noted that the Deep 7 species complex had become overfished, and regulations were put in place to limit fishing.  Now the fishery is said to be recovering. However, because the species are managed jointly, it is impossible to know how the population of opakapaka, specifically, is faring. When fishing pressure remains even, variation between total catch from year to year can indicate the status of a stock. Since the total allowable catch increased in 2007, the total catch of opakapaka increased for two years, but then dropped again in 2010. It is unclear whether this is an indicator of population size, or whether it is related to other factors. Opakapaka are less inherently vulnerable to overfishing than some other Hawaiian bottomfish, including Onaga, because their populations can grow more quickly, so it is possible that this fishery could achieve sustainability. However, until the stock status of opakapaka can be demonstrated as stable, it cannot be verified as a sustainable choice. 

Although the stock status of the Pacific market squid is unknown, squid have a fast growth rate and short lifespan – they naturally replace their entire population each year – so they are not as susceptible to overfishing as many fish species are. Most of the vessels in the California market squid fishery use roundhaul gear, which involves the use of purse seines to encircle and capture entire schools of squid. The vessels often use powerful lights to attract squid to the surface of the water at night, where they can be easily caught. This technique usually allows fishermen to keep the nets near the surface of the water, rather than dragging them along the seafloor where they would cause bottom damage and catch other marine wildlife unintentionally. Bycatch – the unintentional catch of other types of fish and wildlife – is generally low in this fishery.

Skipjack tuna is a common component of canned light tuna. It is much lower in mercury than other types of tuna. In the U.S., the Atlantic skipjack population is stable. The smallest commercially caught tuna, skipjack have short lifespans and rapid reproduction rates, making them less prone to overfishing. Most Atlantic skipjack is caught using hook and line and other individual hand gear, which is associated with minimal bottom habitat damage and little bycatch.

The Alaska pollock fishery, though largely unknown to the public, is the largest U.S. fishery by volume.  The fish are most often ground up for use in fish sticks, fish fillet sandwiches and imitation crab (surimi). Because of their quick growth and low trophic level on the food chain, Alaska pollock is very low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.  Pollock is most commonly caught by midwater pelagic trawl, which is very efficient, and is associated with little damage to ocean habitat unless it is dragged very near to the ocean floor; trawl gear that targets the ocean floor is prohibited in the pollock fishery.  Midwater trawling fishing for pollock has relatively low amounts of bycatch around one to two percent of total catch, but because the fishery is so large, this small percentage equates to a significant tonnage, which amounted to over 75,000 tons in 1992.  The majority of the bycatch consists of undersized pollock, and king and chinook salmon, which may be playing a role in salmon stock decline in the region.  

Pollock mature and reproduce quickly, which make them less susceptible to overfishing than many other species, but despite their official designation as not overfished nor experiencing over-exploitation, the pollock populations in Alaska have been significantly depleted since the 1980s. Polluck is managed as two separate fisheries. In the first, the Gulf of Alaska fishery, spawning biomass (the amount of fish present of the age to reproduce; a key marker of a fishery’s longevity) has decreased by approximately 70 percent since 1985, and in the second, the Eastern Bering Sea fishery, spawning biomass has decreased by around 50 percent. Between 2004 and 2009 in particular, a marked decline in Bering Sea stocks resulted in catch limits for 2010 – at a little over 800,000 metric tons – that are nearly half the amount that was allowed in 2005 (in the range of 1.5 million metric tons). Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the effects of overfishing of pollock on marine mammals, especially threatened Steller sea lions, which depend on pollock for food.

Florida pompano is found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. Research shows that they are probably not overfished on either coast, but the Gulf population is currently at healthier levels. Effective management is in place to prevent Florida pompano from becoming overfished, and because they are faster-growing than species like grouper, their populations are more resilient. Although this characteristic helps the fish to be less strongly associated with mercury, pompano may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: http://map1.epa.gov.

Spot prawns, also referred to as spot shrimp, are caught in California, Oregon, Washington and up to Alaska.  Spot prawns are caught using traps, which generally result in minimal damage to the seafloor and a small amount of bycatch. Although shrimp and prawns are generally thought to be relatively resilient to overfishing, the life cycle of spot prawns and slow growth rate in cold Alaskan waters make spot prawns more susceptible than most warm water shrimp. The spot prawn fishery in Alaska picked up over the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in concern about over-exploitation and change in management structure in the mid-nineties. Some research has indicated that spot prawn populations in southeastern Alaska are vulnerable to serial depletion, although it is unclear whether this is due to fishing or changing environmental conditions. A detailed analysis of spot prawn populations prior to the 2008/2009 fishing season in 19 areas of Alaska concluded that nine of these populations were of “poor” stock status, eight were of moderate stock status, and two remained unknown. Since Alaska is carefully researching and managing this fishery, it is possible that some of these populations will recover further and the fisheries could become sustainable again, but until then spot prawn from Alaska can not be verified as a sustainable choice.

Recommended alternatives to Alaskan pot-caught spot prawns

Food & Water Watch Seafood Guide Smarter Choice Unlike imported shrimp, wild-caught U.S. shrimp is unlikely to contain the drugs and chemicals that are used heavily on many foreign shrimp farms.  Rock shrimp is most commonly caught off the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida, though it is also caught in other states of the South Atlantic.  Rock shrimp rarely lives more than two years, and reproduce frequently, which means that overfishing is not a major concern.  Most of the U.S. shrimp fleet has worked to decrease bycatch (untargeted marine life caught accidentally) by using devices to let sea turtles and fish escape from trawl nets.  Regulations for rock shrimp prohibit trawling over sensitive coral reef areas, and regulate net mesh size to prevent unwanted catch.

Alaskan salmon, consisting of Chinook (king), chum (dog), coho (silver), pink (humpback) and sockeye (red) salmon populations, is caught predominantly with hook-and-line gear, purse seines or gillnets. Most of the bycatch (non-target species) in salmon fisheries consists of other types of salmon than what the specific vessels are targeting. When wild salmon fisheries are well managed, they can maintain the fish stock as a long-term environmentally viable economic resource. The Alaskan salmon populations are not considered to be overfished. Some studies have indicated that wild salmon possess lower levels of PCBs (chemical toxins that pose a health risk to adults and children) than farmed salmon, as a result of the elevated level of contamination in the commercial feed given to farmed salmon. Additionally, wild-caught Alaskan salmon is not exposed to the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics that may be used at salmon farms.

Many salmon stocks in California, Oregon and Washington have become threatened in recent years by poor water management, climate change, and other factors. Some stocks are beginning to show signs of recovery in 2011. Fisheries management officials are expecting a moderate season for this year, and landings are expected to be larger this year than in previous years. Salmon from Oregon, Washington and California may contain some levels of mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: http://map1.epa.gov

Unlike imported shrimp, wild-caught U.S. shrimp is unlikely to contain the drugs and chemicals that are used heavily on many international shrimp farms. The small-sized bay shrimp is the most common shrimp found in Pacific coast estuaries from San Francisco to the Puget Sound; they can also be found south to San Diego. Today, the bay shrimp is fished commercially only in San Francisco, where it is caught primarily as bait, but is also suited for human consumption. Although the species is sensitive to pollution and alteration of estuary habitat, the shrimp’s short life cycle and quick reproduction rate means that overfishing is not a major concern.

Summer flounder may contain high levels of PCB contaminants, chemical toxins that pose a health risk to adults and children.  It is a flatfish that lives along near-coastal ocean floor of the U.S. mid-Atlantic, from the Gulf of Maine to South Carolina. Many Atlantic flatfish populations have historically experienced high fishing pressure, and summer flounder is no exception. Overfishing in the 1980s contributed to a precipitous decline in the size of the stock, hitting a low in 1989. After decades of poor management by federal authorities, a lawsuit was filed to require stricter management of the species, which was won in 2000. Summer flounder was put under more rigorous management, and the species is now beginning to show signs of improvement. Recent recruitment (the number of juvenile fish in a given year) appears to be at its highest levels since 1982. Though the fishery is no longer considered to be “overfished,” and “overfishing” is not considered to be occurring, the population is still only at 89 percent of the management plan’s target level. Summer flounder is almost entirely caught using bottom trawls, a method that can damage the seafloor and organisms living there, like coral and seaweed.  This catch method also may capture non-target marine wildlife (bycatch) including an estimated several dozen sea turtles each year.

Albacore tuna is found throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans off the U.S. coast. It is most frequently seen as canned white tuna. Albacore is not as strongly associated with contamination as bluefin or other types of tuna, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children. Pacific albacore populations are considered high, and do not appear to be undergoing overfishing. Pacific albacore is mainly caught commercially by troll and pole-and-line gear, which are associated with minimal bottom habitat interactions and bycatch.

In the United States, tilapia is generally farmed in closed systems that limit pollution. Many of these farms conserve resources by re-circulating the water, and some even make use of nutrient by-products to grow hydroponic crops. Because tilapia can thrive on plant-based diets, their feed does not require wild fish as an ingredient. Depletion of wild stocks for feed use is a major drawback of many other farmed fish. Because indoor, re-circulating systems are carefully controlled, tilapia producers in the United States rarely use antibiotics or chemicals.

Pacific sardines are not overfished. In the 1950s, Pacific sardines experienced a drastic population decline but their numbers have rebuilt. Sardines swim in schools that are easily targeted by fishermen using purse nets, dip nets, drum seines and lampara nets.  These types of gear do not generally come in full contact with the seafloor, and cause relatively minimal damage.  Generally, collecting schooling fish, like sardines, results in a lower amount of non-targeted species.

Wreckfish is a bass-like species found in the Atlantic from South Carolina down to Florida. Although the status of the wreckfish population has not been established, the fish reproduces quickly, so it is not at great risk for overfishing. Wreckfish is generally caught by hook-and-line. Hook-and-line gear allows for non-target wildlife (bycatch) caught accidentally to be released more quickly, thus providing a higher chance of survival.