Safest Fish to Eat

For years we have been told by health care professionals that we need to eat more fish. They are a lean source of protein, they contain high levels of omega-3s as well as much-needed minerals like selenium, iodine and zinc.  Yet, simultaneously we have been warned to watch our fish intake to avoid contaminants, like Mercury, pesticides and industrial chemicals, and to be aware of the environmental toll the fishing industry has on our planet.  So, which is it? Eat more fish or stay away?  Let’s break it down and look at the safest fish to eat.

There are several organizations, such as The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, that have outlined the fish that are the most sustainable, have the lowest mercury levels and contain the most omega-3 fatty acids.  Luckily, many of the fish that hit all three points are actually the best choices.

1. Atlantic Mackerel (from Canada and the U.S.)
Mackerel is sometimes an under-appreciated fish but it is one of the best for us to eat.  It is a cold-water fish that is one of the highest sources of omega 3 fatty acids.  According to Seafood Watch it is lower in mercury levels and it is sustainably caught by purse seine (basically a big net), which is apparently a more sustainable way of catching mackerel.

2. Freshwater Coho Salmon
Salmon is one of the most popular fish out there.  Similar to mackerel, because it is a cold-water fish it contains omega-3 fatty acids.  Coho salmon is actually farmed in tank systems that are recognized as “Best Choice” by Seafood Watch.  The feed for coho salmon is derived from plant protein, which has reduced the dependence on wild fish in the feed, making it more sustainable.  Coho are a smaller fish and have lower PCB levels, a toxic pollutant, making them a much safer fish for consumption.

3. Pacific, Wild-Caught Sardines
Sardines are one of the most underrated fish out there.  They got a bad rap a long time ago, but sardines actually have one of the highest omega-3 levels.  They are also incredibly high in B12, Vitamin D, selenium and are rich in protein. Since sardines are small fish at the bottom of the food chain they do not have high concentrations of chemicals or pollutants.

4. Wild-Caught Salmon (Alaska)
Wild-caught salmon usually refers to sockeye, pink, coho, chum and chinook salmon.  Alaska’s wild-caught salmon are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, giving it the sustainable stamp of approval.  Wild-caught salmon naturally has a much more pink colour, gamier taste and less fat.  Due to the well-managed fisheries, this wild-caught salmon is also low in ocean contaminants and is one of the safest and best fish to eat.

5. Sablefish/Black Cod (Alaska and Canadian Pacific)
Although this fish is more of a delicacy for many, it also makes the list as one of the best and safest fish to eat.  Previously sablefish were over-exploited but with proper management from B.C. and Alaska, the sablefish populations have been rebuilt and can now support sustainable fishing, according to Ocean Wise.  Sablefish is low in contaminants and does contain omega-3 fatty acids but not as much as the fish listed above.

Now that you know the best fish to eat to benefit your health and the environment, get cooking!  For more information on the best and worst fish to eat check out seachoice.org, seafoodwatch.org or oceanwise.ca.

Tamara-Green-headshot-SliceTamara Green is co-founder of The Living Kitchen, and a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Natural Cook. She combines her knowledge of nutrition and passion for cooking good food to work with clients to create lasting changes in their lives.