“I’m confused about which fish are healthy and sustainable.” - Valerie Vander Berg: Age: 38, marketing specialist, Grandville, Mich.

September 01, 2011
Brian Kelly Photography


Valerie, a self-described sushi addict, used to serve a lot of seafood at home until an innocent airport bookstore purchase changed everything. “I learned that what I was eating wasn’t healthy for my family or the earth,” she says of her take-away from reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. The book aroused concerns about the conditions of farmed fish and sustainability, so the family cut back their fish consumption from twice a week to twice a month. “Sustainable, ecofriendly fish cost a lot more than the six-dollar bag of shrimp from who knows where,” she says.


The only way to sort out seafood sustainability is to find ways to make it simpler. Luckily, there are lots of them.

  • Let Cooking Light help. Look for our green fish icon in each issue. It lets you know a recipe calls for fish or seafood with healthy populations that are caught (or raised) by environmentally friendly means. We also provide sustainable substitutions in case the recipe’s recommended fish isn’t readily available.
  • Keep knowledge on hand. Download the free Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app, and know instantly before you buy or eat if a fish is ecofriendly. No smart phone? Visit montereybayaquarium.org to download a printable pocket guide that’s keyed to your region so you can choose the ecofriendliest seafood. The guides are updated every six months.
  • Be sushi smart. Good news for Valerie and other sushi hounds: The Monterey Bay Aquarium phone app features a sushi guide, too. Both versions alert you to fish that might have high levels of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. And there is a movement among sushi chefs to emphasize sustainable fish: Seek out such chefs, and reward them with your business.
  • Be label literate. Many seafood sellers are working to raise awareness about the need for sustainable, ecofriendly fishing and the importance of not purchasing seafood on the endangered list. That’s great, but it does have one downside: a glut of ecolabels that can make for confusion at the seafood counter. When you’re grocery shopping and you’ve forgotten your Monterey Bay Guide, look for these two labels: Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Sea. Fish and seafood with these labels come from certified sustainable and well-managed fisheries.
  • Branch out. Most people fall into a habit of selecting only familiar fish varieties. If your favorite is on the “avoid” list or you’re just looking for something new, use the pocket guide or phone app to find better choices.
  • If in doubt, make another choice. Generically labeled fish, such as “tuna,” may be sustainable or may be an endangered species or from overfished waters. Read the label for species type, and where, when, and how it was fished or raised. If that information is not there, look for a more ecofriendly option that is clearly labeled.