Affordable Sustainable Seafood Choices for Your Table
Humans have harvested the oceans for food for thousands of years, but unfortunately the bounties of the seas are not as endless as they seem. Commercial fishing technologies have advanced significantly in the past century, and marine ecosystems are threatened by over-fishing. For those who love seafood but also want to be mindful of the environment, here are some sustainable and affordable seafood choices. (See also: How to Shop for Fresh Fish)
For the vegetarians out there, seaweed or kelp is a very healthy and sustainable seafood. Seaweed grows quite fast and is commercially farmed in many places around the world. You can buy seaweed dried, fresh, or frozen at many Asian markets. Dried seaweed may look expensive by weight, but it does expand in water and flavors soups very well. Fresh seaweed can make great salads or garnishes. There are hundreds of types of edible seaweed, so it may take a bit of experimentation to find out which type you prefer.
Certain types of shrimp are great sustainable seafood since they grow quite rapidly. Farmed shrimp require very little food and produce very little pollution. The best farmed shrimp choices, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide, are those "farmed in fully recirculating systems or inland ponds." As Myscha wrote in her post about cheap seafood, frozen shrimp does not lose much of its flavor, and sometimes you can get it quite cheaply. I have seen frozen shrimp on sale for less than $2 a pound. Also, smaller shrimps are usually cheaper, and they taste the same as the larger ones. For more on which shrimp are sustainable, read the Environmental Defense Fund's information on U.S. farmed shrimp or this article on post-oil-spill shrimp from Mother Jones.
Mussels are around $2 to $5 a pound and available year round. About 90% of mussels consumed are farmed, and most of the mussels consumed in the United States are imported from Canada or New Zealand. Mussels are great in farms because they do not escape and are very disease resistant.
Catfish are native to the United States and farmed in large quantities. Farmed catfish live in enclosed ponds and eat mostly grains. If you buy in bulk, catfish can be less than $2 a pound. There are also a lot of imported catfish from Asia on the market, but they are not exactly the same as the channel catfish from the United States. If you live in the United States, then the most sustainable and local catfish to eat are those farmed in the southern states.
To read more about sustainable seafood, read the Monterey Bay Aquarium's full Seafood Watch guide. The site also has a downloadable app for the iPhone that can give you up-to-date information about the sustainability of seafood. In general, the most sustainable seafoods are those that grow quickly and are farmed in regulated environments that are not polluted. Quick-growing sea creatures also contain little or no harmful chemicals such as mercury, and that makes them healthier.
What do you think? What is your favorite cheap and sustainable seafood?
Note: This post was updated to specify what kind of shrimp are sustainable.