Affordable Sustainable Seafood Choices for Your Table

by Xin Lu on 17 March 2011 3 comments
Photo: USFWS Pacific

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)

Seaweed

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.

Shrimp

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

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

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.

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Guest's picture

Frozen shrimp for $2 per pound? Must be in the U.S.A?
We see it here in Canada for $4-$5 per lb once in a while and we stock up on it big time. We love to make curry with shrimp and Mrs. SPF makes a nice lemon/shrimps/broccoli pasta dish that is scrumptious as well.

Guest's picture
Carry

I'm sorry, but farmed shrimp is the furthest thing from sustainable. Shrimp farms are responsible for the destruction of 38 percent of the world's unique and crucial mangrove habitats. Farmed shrimp are also fed roughly 1.4 pounds of wild fish for every pound of shrimp produced. Shrimp ponds are regularly treated with toxic chemicals such as with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, in addition to pesticides and piscicides such as chlorine and retenone. In many farms, the shrimp are treated before sale with Borax, caustic soda and the suspected neurotoxin sodium tripolyphosphate. Widespread antibiotic use in fish farming produces, paradoxically, shrimp with high concentrations of bacteria. A recent test of imported ready-to-eat shrimp found it to be contaminated with 162 different species of bacteria that were collectively resistant to a total of 10 different antibiotics.

Don't think you can simply switch to wild-caught shrimp either to ease your consciousness. Wild caught shrimp (caught using trawlers) is responsible for the destruction of non-commercial (and often endangered) species such as sharks, rays, sea turtles and juvenile red snapper in massive numbers.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you for taking the time to share these facts. Shows a little research goes a long way :-)