EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood

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September 18, 2014

EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood: Seafood Sustainability

Global fisheries are stressed by over-fishing and climate change.  Expanded American fish consumption would intensify strains on these resources.

Even as it recommended that adults consume eight to 12 ounces of seafood per week, the administration’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognized the threat to fisheries and called for “efficient and ecologically friendly strategies to allow for greater consumption of seafood [omega-3] fatty acids.”  It called for more research into ways to derive more DHA and EPA from plants (USDA 2010).

Aquaculture is often promoted as a way to increase fish and shellfish production and protect wild fisheries.  But aquaculture practices vary, as does their ecological impact. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch® program gives high marks for sustainability to farmed scallops, oysters, mussels, Arctic char, striped bass, catfish and rainbow trout.  But shrimp and salmon farming often damage surrounding ecosystems and sometimes employ antibiotics and chemical treatments to combat diseases compounded by over-crowding.

EWG believes Americans must consider the impact of their dietary choices on the ocean and freshwater ecosystems. One key step is to assess which segments of the population most benefit from seafood consumption and give them clear information about species and quantities that best provide health benefits. 

To that end, EWG has considered the seafood sustainability ratings of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch® program (Monterey Bay Aquarium 2014). This program, launched in 1999, provides science-based, peer-reviewed sustainability ratings for commercial fish species and updates its assessments on a rolling basis. Its green rating for “best choices” goes to sources of fish that are “well managed and caught or farmed in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife.” The “yellow” rating for “good alternatives” goes to species with “some concerns” for sustainability. “Red” ratings for fish to avoid mean fish with strong sustainability concerns.

Consumers seeking sustainable choices face a challenge:  sustainability ratings for a single species can range from green to red.  Many grocery stores show ecological ratings for specific varieties. Restaurants participating in sustainability programs like Fish Choice verify that all seafood menu items are from sustainably-managed fisheries.

EWG’s “best bets” are species likely to contain little mercury and other contaminants and that come from sources rated as sustainable by Seafood Watch®.  Check out seafood ratings and download the Seafood Watch® app.