7 Super Sustainable Seafood Picks – 2009

Added by
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

A while ago, I was hired by a company to do extensive research about the sustainable seafood situation and boil it down into an executive summary so they could choose which tack made sense for them to take. During the course of my research I leaned heavily on the outstanding resources available—Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector and Blue Ocean Institute’s Seafood Search are three of my favorites—to help us choose fish that are both sustainably sound and safe for us to eat. But as I waded through reports and cross-referenced lists, I felt the need for another variable to make it all more usable for the consumer:

Ease of understanding.

sustainable-seafood-picks-2009If a fish is green across the board, terrific. But if a particular species is green, yellow and red depending on where it’s caught and how it’s caught, then it was docked points in my own ranking system for being hard to grasp. As grateful as I am for the seafood guides out there, I wanted a short list of fish I could memorize** that would both widen my horizons (no more defaulting to the one or two that were top of mind) and provide a safety net, so to speak, so I could choose wisely even if I was caught without my pocket guide (or, God forbid, my iPhone). And I imagined a lot of people would feel the same way.

So here, unveiled for our Contributor Jacqueline Church’s Teach a Man to Fish blog event, are my Seven Super Sustainable Seafood Picks*:

  • Mussels, Oysters and Clams – Mollusks are terrific sustainable seafood picks and a prime example of healthy aquaculture. Because they filter particulate matter from the water in order to feed, these bivalves actually leave the area cleaner than before they were there.
  • Barramundi – A common fish in Australia, barramundi is now being farmed sustainably both here in the US and in Southeast Asia. Since they are a fast-growing fish, they’re a great choice for aquaculture.
  • Wild-caught Alaskan Salmon – As I wrote about in Go Wild, Alaskan Salmon is the poster child of sustainable fishery management (the system within which fish are caught, processed and sold). Although not all salmon is sustainable, there is a clear-cut delineation between what is and what’s not: avoid anything labeled Atlantic salmon or farmed salmon.
  • Arctic Char – Arctic char is actually a member of the salmon family. In the US and other parts of the world, it’s being raised in sustainable environments. I find it makes a great everyday alternative to salmon.
  • Sardines – Sardines are fast-growing, low-on-the-food-chain fish that are most commonly known in the US as coming from cans or jars. And while minced sardines are delicious to stir into sauces and dressings for added depth of flavor, fresh sardines are becoming more abundant at the market now too.  Try them marinated in olive oil, garlic, oregano and lemon and seared in a skillet or on the grill.
  • Farmed Striped Bass – Both farmed and wild striped bass are friendly to the environment, but the wild population can be high in contaminants so it’s best to stick to farmed as a rule. That said, striped bass is a great pick when you’re looking for a fish to roast whole (much more eco-friendly than, for instance, red snapper).
  • Squid – Squid, also known as calamari, is a fast-growing species caught with methods that don’t damage the surrounding habitat. It’s available frozen year-round and makes an excellent substitution for shrimp in salads and stir-fries. Although if you can find it fresh, buy it; it’s both economical and irresistibly tender.

* The criteria for being one of the Seven Super Sustainable Seafood Picks: raised or caught in a manner healthy for the environment; safe and good for us to eat; easy to understand as a consumer

** Note that this list is not static; fishery situations change over time, and so does the status of whether a fish is safe or sustainable or easy to understand. So what you see here now may be different than what you see a year from now. Check back from time to time for an update.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+

Barramundi with Shallots and Chile

Barramundi’s meaty yet flaky texture makes it a good pair for dishes with an Asian flair. Like this one, with caramelized shallots and chile and a savory splash of fish sauce. You can find barramundi at many fish counters these days, or in the frozen section of several supermarkets.


2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 jalapenos, thinly sliced
2 8-10 ounce barramundi fillets
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce

Heat peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute shallots and jalapenos for 2-3 minutes, until just amber.

Add fish to the pan and sear on one side for 3 minutes.

Flip the fish carefully with a spatula. Sprinkle sugar and fish sauce over top and cook another 3 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.

Serves 4

  • http://JacquelineChurch.com Jacqueline Church

    Interesting thing about barramundi, I just learned that in Australia, it’s called “the apprentice fish.” Due to its good amount of fat, it’s almost impossible to overcook. Lots of beginning cooks are given the barramundi dishes to prepare. This is loads of good news for the home cook. A) the fat is healthy fat and still better than many fats in other proteins; and B) it’s an easy fish for those new to preparing fish at home.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Very interesting–I love that, the apprentice fish (although it does bring up an image of Donald Trump). Good points about the fats and the ease of preparation. There’s definitely going to be more barramundi in my future.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/ldgourmet/ ldgourmet

    Too funnny – now I’m picturing a fish with that unfortunate comb-over! ;-)

  • Pingback: Nourish Network » Monterey Bay Aquarium: Turning the Tide Towards Sustainable Seafood()

  • Pingback: Green Holiday Entertaining | Nourish Network()

  • Kathleen

    I would love to see recipes for canned sardines. Eating Well has a spread this month, touting them as a super food… but they only supply one recipe. Ideas anyone??

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    I would too, Kathleen! They’re terrific, and definitely a super food. We’ve got something coming up with anchovies, but I’ll put sardines on the list too.

  • Kathleen

    I love your list, Lia. I also have memorized a few from the Seafood Watch list, but I sometimes forget which fish need to be farmed, which should be wild, which should be from the US, etc etc etc. It’s not intuitive when I’m standing in the grocery store aisle and I don’t have time to get out my guide which is always tucked forlornly away in my wallet.

    But. Here’s what I’m really wanting: for my favorite store, Trader Joe’s, to sell only sustainable seafood! I found this article, which is promising, though I wish it would happen sooner than 2013:

    In the meantime, I’d love to see a cross-referenced seafood watch / Trader Joe’s shopping list. Anyone seen anything like that?

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Good question — I haven’t. But I can give you a few pointers:

    * Look at the country of origin for all farmed fish — at this point, it’s best to just source from the US. Unfortunately, most of Trader Joe’s farmed fish (and shrimp) are imported, which is iffy both in terms of eco-friendliness and health. (you can read more about Farmed Fish here: http://nourishnetwork.com/2010/07/22/farm-fresh-fish/)

    * Personally, I like to stay away from farmed salmon. Period.

    * For wild-caught species, like salmon, tuna, halibut and such, it’s best to check out your Seafood Watch card against where it’s coming from. You can also “memorize” some of the wild-caught species on our 2010 list here (http://nourishnetwork.com/2010/06/08/7-super-sustainable-seafood-picks-2010/) — we’ve got sablefish, Alaskan Pacific cod and mahi mahi on there, which are all sustainable, wild-caught choices.

  • Pingback: Super Seven Sustainable Seafood Picks-2011 | Nourish Network()