It may take your breath away to learn that a whopping 90% of global fish stocks are either completely exhausted or over-exploited. Does it even make sense to continue eating seafood? Possibly, if we choose to buy from businesses that source their fish using responsible, sustainable practices. How can you tell? Consider three main factors: carbon footprint, biodiversity, and the method used to catch your fish.
Most of the seafood consumed in the US is imported from China and Southeast Asia. If it's fresh, it's been flown to us on ice, a method that requires an incredible amount of energy and that's damaging to the environment. That's why buying frozen or canned fish is a far better alternative in terms of its carbon footprint.
Secondly, eating a wide variety of seafood is very important for protecting our oceans' diversity. Overall, Americans tend to stick to just four types of fish in their diet: shrimp, salmon, tuna, and cod. That puts disproportionate pressure on those fish stocks, and industries often resort to more desperate, damaging fishing methods as a result. Instead, approach your fish counter with an open mind, looking for the “catch of the day” and asking your seller for their recommendations on preparing it. Another great option is choosing subscription-based programs like Dock to Dish. These companies pay fishermen for whatever they’re able to catch that day.
Lastly, consider how your seafood was raised and caught. Seafood generally falls into one of two categories: farmed or wild-caught. Although fisheries are praised as a way to save wild fish populations, they aren’t always better. And while wild-caught can mean a cleaner, healthier fish product, this isn’t always true either. Generally, dredging or bottom trawling methods of fishing are the most damaging to ocean life. This is because they essentially drag weighted nets across the ocean floor, disrupting the marine habitat and capturing organisms we don't even end up eating.
It’s best to do your homework on each kind of seafood you’re interested in. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch database is a very reliable source for looking up the sustainability and safety of various kinds of fish and shellfish.
Below, you’ll find some of the best sustainable seafood options, including why each are a good choice and how you can prepare them for delicious, sustainable eating.
10 Sustainable Fish Options
01 of 10
Anchovies are an oily fish that are typically cured and packed in oil or salt before
being sold in tins or jars. They can also be found fresh if you’d like to prepare them differently.
Why they're sustainable: Anchovies live at the bottom of the food chain; this means they have a quick growth cycle and they repopulate quickly. That said, it matters where they’re sourced from. If they’re from the Peruvian coast or Southeast Pacific, skip them—the last el Niño has reduced anchovy populations and they need to replenish. Instead, choose those from the Northeast Atlantic, especially if they're certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or other similar organization.
Cooking anchovies: If they’re packed in oil or salt, they’re great for boosting umami in sauces, dressings, pastas, or in this classic Provençal Pissaladière. If you find them fresh, enjoy Spanish style boquerones, either fried or marinated in vinegar.
02 of 10
Arctic Char (Farmed)
Arctic char is an oily fish with a rich, yet subtle flavor, making it a good substitute for salmon or trout.
Why it’s sustainable: Unlike salmon, Arctic char takes well to being farmed. It's often raised in a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), which is a very clean method of fish farming. This greatly reduces the issues associated with traditional fisheries embedded within wild habitats, which often release waste, chemicals, and even parasites into their surroundings.
Cooking Arctic char: Due to its meaty texture, char doesn't overcook easily the way other seafood does. You can pan-sear it with the skin on for extra crispiness and flavor, or grill it in this recipe for honey-Dijon Arctic char. Or, simply swap in char for virtually any salmon or trout recipe.
03 of 10
Clams, Mussels, Oysters, and Scallops (Farmed)
Clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops are all technically “bivalves,” a type of mollusk that lives within a hinged shell. Although not quite interchangeable in recipes, many bivalves share a tender texture and a mildly briny, buttery taste.
Why they’re sustainable: Bivalves get their nutrients from the water, so they don’t need any commercial feeds to be farmed. They also don’t create waste like fish do, meaning that polluting the habitats they’re grown in isn’t a problem. Just be sure you choose those that are farmed or caught by diving.
Cooking bivalves: Oysters are delicious raw, but the other bivalve varieties should be cooked. That said, you don’t need to be picky about your method: steamed, baked, stewed, and fried are all great options.
04 of 10
Hake is a part of the cod family, so it can be used in place of cod, haddock, and pollock. It has white flesh with a lighter flake than cod and is popular in the European market.
Why it’s sustainable: Hake is largely sourced from either Europe or the Cape of South Africa. Choose hake from Europe when you can, as those stocks are managed more sustainably. But so long as your hake has been certified as sustainable by the MSC or other reputable organization, its origin doesn't matter as much.
Cooking hake: Hake is excellent fried, pan-seared, or braised. Try it Moroccan
style, fried with spices, or replace the cod in this classic Basque dish, bacalao.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Prawns and Shrimp
Although prawns and shrimp are both crustaceans that appear very
similar, they are in fact different species. Prawns are more popular globally
and on average, they are larger in size than shrimp. Both have
a mild taste and a meaty texture, so you can often use them interchangeably in
Why they’re sustainable: The truth is, prawns and shrimp are not always sustainable and you need to be selective. For farmed shrimp and prawns, look for those that have been evaluated by the Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP), the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), or the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) groups. For BAP labeled products, choose those with at least a two-star rating.
For wild shrimp and prawns, stick to those that come from the Gulf of Mexico, Oregon, and British Columbia. Wild-caught varieties from other sources probably use bottom trawl nets to catch their shrimp or prawns, catching about four pounds of bycatch for every one pound of shrimp or prawns.
How to cook prawns or shrimp: Both prawns and shrimp cook very quickly, in about a minute. Apart from this rule, you can prepare them in nearly any way you please—shells on or off, steamed, broiled, grilled…you get the picture. Make prawns rawa fry, a popular Indian dish, or shrimp Creole, a classic recipe from the American South.
06 of 10
Skipjack tuna is frequently canned and it tends to have a stronger flavor than other varieties. It typically has three times less mercury than both Albacore and Yellowfin tuna.
Why it’s sustainable: Skipjack grows faster than other kinds of tuna, so by the time they’re caught, they’ve typically had a chance to reproduce. Look for skipjack tuna caught with a pole and line or trolls, since these are far more precise and avoid the large volume of bycatch produced by purse seine methods.
Cooking skipjack tuna: You can use canned skipjack tuna for a last-minute meal, like these tuna melt futomaki rolls, or fish tacos. Fresh skipjack tuna can easily be substituted for Yellowfin or Bigeye tuna in dishes, though it is harder to find. Make this recipe for spice-rubbed tuna steaks or this one for sesame-crusted and grilled tuna steaks.
07 of 10
There are five types of Alaskan salmon on the market and each taste a bit different. Sockeye are at one end of the spectrum, with a rich color, fatty flesh, and strong flavor. Towards the other end is pink salmon, with its lighter color and flavor.
Why it’s sustainable: Wild Alaskan salmon is regulated very closely and their stocks are healthy. They’re also often caught using pole and line or troll methods, which have a minimal environmental impact.
Cooking wild Alaskan salmon: Salmon can be cooked any number of ways, including baking, broiling, pan-frying, and grilling. Use canned salmon to make this salmon
chowder or use fresh fish to make your own salmon lox from scratch.
08 of 10
Albacore tuna is subtle, white meat that can be flavored with practically anything, even strong flavors like lemon, black olives, tomatoes, and capers. The mercury that is typically found in tuna affecting human health is not found in troll or poll caught albacore tuna, which are younger and smaller.
Why it's sustainable: Look for Albacore tuna caught by troll/pole from Canadian and US Pacific waters. Pole catching eliminates bycatch of species like dolphins.
Cooking albacore tuna: Available fresh, frozen, canned and smoked, tuna can be enjoyed year-round. Albacore tuna has a more mild flavor than Ahi tuna but with the same meatiness. Don't overcook or it will dry out. Undercooking tuna or even raw is acceptable with high-quality tuna.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
The meat of the Dungeness crab is snow-white, sweet and juicy.
Why it's sustainable: Dungeness is the best choice when it comes to crabs. Carefully managed with size limits and trap restrictions, Dungeness is harvested with traps, ring nets and even by hand using dip nets which limits bycatch. Look for Dungeness crab that is trap caught in Canada, California, Oregon and Washington. AVOID Dungeness crab that is trap caught in Alaska or Atlantic Dungeness crab.
Cooking Dungeness Crab: Available live, freshly cooked, frozen or canned, this sweet and rich crab is great year round. The best way to cook fresh Dungeness crab is by steaming for 7 minutes per pound. Boiling is also acceptable—more tips on cooking Dungeness crab.
10 of 10
Silver Hake (also known as Atlantic Whiting) is a wonderful white fish alternative to cod and haddock. Spain's favorite fish is gaining popularity with chefs in the States, look for hake to be the next trendy thing in restaurants.
Why it's sustainable: Previously overfished, the silver hake is making a comeback in the North Atlantic. Stay away from silver hake fished south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina The population there hasn't yet fully recovered and is still considered overfished. Avoid fish labeled "white hake."
Cooking Hake: Hake has a texture similar to sole and is mild-tasting, even sweet. Hake can be substituted in dishes calling for pollock or cod. Excellent sauteed or lightly battered and fried, hake is very popular in Fish & Chips.