The 5 Fish You Should Be Eating Now

Thinkstock/iStockphotoThinkstock/iStockphotoWe're always hearing that we should be eating more fish. Whether it's from our doctor, from a friend in the culinary industry, or from some extreme pescetarian who hates on the consumption of meat because of its effects on the environment, we're constantly being told that fish is a better cooking, and dining, option.

Related: 15 Easy Fish Recipes for Summer

It's true, too. The health benefits of eating fish are undeniable, whether it's battling diseases or getting a huge dose of nutrients like protein, calcium, or vitamin B12. And when bought fresh and cooked right, fish is delicious, and it's a great choice for cooking because most kinds have a mild enough taste to pair them with any type of foods or flavors. Last but not least, even meat eaters can admit that the production of beef in this country does not lend itself to a good outlook for the environment, so why not order salmon over steak one night?

So now that we've covered why eating more fish is good for your taste buds, your body, and the planet, you might be asking yourself: Why should I being eating fish now?

Believe it or not, the consumption of fish is impacting our environment, too, and the more we make smart choices about what fish to eat at a given time, the more we'll be helping our planet survive.

"People don't think about seafood and how it effects our environment," explains Sheila Bowman, manager of culinary and strategic operations at Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program.

How do fish have an impact on the environment? Like beef, fish make an impact in several ways, as Bowman explained to The Daily Meal, and there are a lot of different ways to think about making sustainable choices when consuming fish.

The first problem to consider is how we're destroying entire ecosystems within our oceans' waters. An example is with net fishing, most commonly used with shrimp, which delivers multiple blows to our oceans' habitats. The nets are large and invasive; destroying ecosystems that don't deserve to be destroyed and collecting more than we need, an issue she defines as a "bycatch." Nothing is more evocative of this bycatch issue than a shrimp cocktail display the program has used to demonstrate what else is being pulled in when we go shrimping. There's also the practice of fishing in breeding grounds, because as Bowman explains it, "When these fishermen head out every day, they want to get the job done quickly and efficiently," and oftentimes that means disrupting large masses of fish in places where they gather to mate, making it harder for them to reproduce and thrive.

Along these lines, and one of our biggest problems, according to Bowman, are our less-than-conservative measures of fishing that are causing us to deplete entire populations of fish. "We take 50 million tons of fish when we should be taking 20," says Bowman. Along these lines, we have a tendency to eat fish that are higher up on the food chain, which are slow-growing, long-living species. Fish like swordfish, shark, and tuna are the "tigers of the aquatic world," she says, and by overfishing them, we're making them go extinct. Another way of putting it is thinking of cod as the elephants of the ocean, and less favorable fish but better choices, like sardines, as the chicken. Cod used to be a 6-foot-long, 240-pound fish, and they're now reduced to measuring 2 feet long and weighing less than 100 pounds.

Our fish farming practices are an issue as well, and one that most closely relates to the problems with cattle production. When fish are farmed in small, overcrowded tanks, they excrete large amount of toxins into the water and air, and are therefore harming the environment as well as each other, forcing these fish farming corporations to feed them drugs and antibiotics, which further affects their carbon dioxide omission, as well as our health.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Why You Should Eat More Fish


As you can see, our choices about what fish to eat are not ones that should be just based on taste or preference, but ones that consider our Earth, as well. Bowman and her colleagues are looking to change people's understanding of fish and how to consume it, which is evident in the program's mission statement, which states that it aims to help "consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans."

As years pass and the tides change, Bowman and her team of scientists at the aquarium study government reports and journal articles, as well as communicate with fishery and fish farm experts, to develop a highly researched report that is then reviewed by a panel of experts from academia, government, and the seafood industry. The reports are updated every six months, which points to the important fact that what fish we should be eating for flavor, health, and the environment, depends on the current situation.

With these reports, the program not only hopes to raise awareness about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood, but make recommendations based off them that will help them succeed in their mission statement.

The program's recommendations are put into a buyer's guide, which is divided into three categories, with green, yellow, and red, and representing "best choices," "good alternatives," and ones you should "avoid," respectively. Since 1999, the program has distributed these recommendations through more than 40 million pocket guides and through their smartphone application, which has been downloaded nearly 1 million times.

While you may think that these recommendations will require you to ban swordfish or cod from your diet, not all hope is lost, says Bowman, because "any fish you want to eat, there's a sustainable option out there." Being a smart fish consumer means making informed, educated choices, says Bowman, about where the fish are coming from and how they are caught or raised. Is swordfish on the menu tonight? The program's guide will tell you to choose types that are harpoon- and handline-caught from Canada, the U.S., the North Atlantic, and the Eastern Pacific, and to avoid the imported, landline options. The best and easiest part is, all of this information is required to be made available to us by our fishmongers and grocery stores, and all we have to do is think to ask.

With the help of the program, we're ready to start making smart choices about the fish we eat, but we're not just going to stop there. Whether our top priority is health, flavor, or the environment, we want to make sure the choices we're making are sound with all three criteria. Which is why we've asked notable figures within the industry, including chefs Laurent Tourondel and Michael Ferraro, as well as influential people like chef Ray Dawson, director of culinary arts of the International Culinary Center, about what fish they're cooking these days. While their selections may not always be the most environmentally sound, with the help of the program's recommendations we're able to listen to both sides of the story and enjoy the fish in a safe way.

And while we already know that fish is good for us, we dug a little deeper and asked health professionals to explain even more why that's so. Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, author of What Doctors Eat and founder and medical director of the Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, shares some of her healthiest picks of fish for us to choose from. We also share insight from Dr. Barry Sears, creator of the Zone Diet, on which fish are healthiest.

What you eat should always be an informed decision, based on what tastes good, what's going to make us feel good, and what's good for the environment. Here are 5 fish for you to be eating now that have been hand-selected with these things in mind.

Catfish


A staple fish in the South, catfish is making a comeback in the culinary world, and that's great for our environment, too. Chefs all over the South are reinventing the light, white fish, by serving it with fresh and bright flavors like lemon and avocado. Buyers be wary, though, because some fish you'll find at the grocery store labeled "catfish" could be imported from other countries and may not be catfish at all. To avoid this issue, only buy catfish that are labeled as U.S.-farmed, which means they were raised in a closed, recirculated fresh water tank and fed a mostly vegetarian diet. This recipe is a lighter variation of the deep-fried catfish we usually see, keeping it as the lean protein that we need it to be for our health.

Click here to see the Pan-Seared Catfish Recipe.

Swordfish

"My favorite fish to cook right now is local swordfish, because I love the meaty texture, which is great for grilling," says Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya in New York. While we agree that swordfish is a great fish, Bowman designates swordfish as a type of fish that's great to enjoy only once in a while when the right choices are made when buying it. Look for harpoon- and handline-caught swordfish from Canada, the U.S., the North Atlantic, and the Eastern Pacific.

Striped Bass

Striped bass is a popular seafood choice across the board, as it is good for you, sustainable, and tastes great. Chef Laurent Tourondel of Arlington Club tells us that fishing for striped bass is one of his favorite summertime activities, explaining that "the fish is so fresh and flavorful right out of the sea." Striped bass is also a great choice when you're concerned about the mercury levels you're consuming, according to Dr. Bhatia, and while in the past striped bass has been vulnerable to fishing pressure, the Seafood Watch Program states that recent reports show that its stock is abundant and overfishing is not currently a concern.

Hake

Chef Michael Ferraro of New York City's Delicatessen and macbar loves cooking with hake, explaining that "it's a very tender white fish with similar characteristics to cod." He says that its great taste works well with frying, pan-roasting, and steaming, and because it's not an overly popular fish, it's affordable and still accessible. Despite hake not being a popular fish, it has succumbed to overfishing in the past years, but recent reports from the program state that it's not nearly as threatened as it has been, and they've placed it on their "good alternatives" list so long as they're wild-caught and from the U.S. areas of the Atlantic. If you come across hake at the store, try it using this cod recipe, which marinates it in a miso glaze before grilling it over an open flame.

Click here to see the Black Cod with Miso Recipe.


Barramundi

Barramundi is among the top of its class for sustainable seafood, as it is a fast-growing and a hardy fish to consume. The program recommends only buying barramundi that has been farmed in the U.S., which means they were raised in closed, recirculating tanks, rather than being raised in open nets or cages in the Indo-Pacific. Because barramundi mainly feed on plankton, they eat less fish with high mercury levels and therefore contain fewer toxins, making them an optimal choice for health. Similar to cod and halibut, barramundi is a white, flaky fish that is versatile enough to cook with any set of flavors. Next time you go to make this recipe with a fruity watermelon salsa, try barramundi instead of halibut.

Click here to see a Halibut with Watermelon Recipe

-Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal

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