If you’re a seafood lover, good for you! It’s one of the healthiest forms of animal protein around, offering up a slew of benefits including lowered cholesterol, reduced risk for heart disease and enhanced brain functioning.
Like anything in life, you’ll want to aim to eat your seafood in moderation. However, there’s another concern that fans of fish should know about having to do with the environment in particular.
This is where the concept of eco-friendly eating comes into play. It’s essentially a method of consuming food in a way that protects the planet.
This includes the air, soil, plants and animals. In general, it means meeting the food and nutrition needs of people today without limiting future generations from meeting their needs, explains Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., Virginia-based dietitian, consultant to the Norwegian Seafood Council and author of Prediabetes.
“Eating in an eco-friendly way involves making food choices and engaging in eating- and shopping-related behaviors that help us conserve and renew natural resources. This means they’re energy efficient and reduce waste,” she says.
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“As a result of consuming in an eco-friendly way, farmers are better protected as well as other workers, communities and consumers.”
When it comes to animal proteins, eating seafood is a good choice for the environment. Seafood production results in less greenhouse gas emissions than the production of beef and some other animal proteins, she further explains.
Here are some ways you can consume your seafood in a more eco-friendly way, according to nutrition experts.
Choose your seafood carefully
Whenever possible, it’s best to choose organic, farmed fish. The farmers raising the fish are in control of their breeding, feeding, and any medications they might need.
The alternative is wild fish, which can disrupt the world’s fish stock. Consuming them in large amounts increases the risk of overfishing.
“Fish farming is less well-regulated in many countries and regions of the world,” says Suzanne Dixon, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com.
Farmed fish, such as salmon, may even carry higher nutritional value. They tend to be fattier and contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acid.
One study, published in Environmental Research also found that wild Atlantic salmon contains more mercury than their farmed counterpart.
Mercury is a heavy metal that’s present in fish, but can lead to health problems in the human body. Generally, the lower on the food chain a fish is, the less heavy metals it will have in it, according to Dixon.
“Cod, salmon and pollack, which eat some small fish, have moderate amounts of mercury. Tuna, shark and halibut, which eat salmon and pollack-sized fish, have higher amounts of mercury,” she says.
Opt for line-caught ocean fish
Labelling isn’t always consistent, which makes it difficult to tell whether or not seafood is line-caught or net-caught. But, when possible, choose line-caught. It tends to associate with less collateral damage, according to Dixon.
“‘Line caught’ and ‘net captured’ refer only to wild fish. These terms are not applicable to farm-raised fish,” she explains.
“Line-caught fish are caught on long ‘fishing lines’ that are pulled behind a commercial fishing boat.” The lines can inadvertently capture “by-catch.”
These are the unintended species that are accidentally caught and killed. However, they tend to do this less than net, according to Dixon.
Net-caught wild fish are “scooped up” with a large net. “This method can capture a lot of non-target fish. These are the fish that aren’t as valuable. They are often tossed back into the ocean, but unfortunately die anyway,” Dixon explains.
“Plus, fishing nets that get loose can drift around the sea and tangle up marine mammals such as whales, seals and dolphins and larger, apex predators such as sharks.”
The result of net fishing is significantly more devastating to larger, non-target species that aren’t commercially valuable. Yet, they suffer the consequences of net fishing practices. This is why she recommends choosing line-caught whenever possible.
Try something new
There may be certain fish that you love above others. But it’s important to open your pallet to a wide array of options.
This, Luca Piere, of Dos Ceibas Ecological Resort in Tulum, Mexico, explains, is crucial for maintaining current fish stocks and protecting species that are in danger of being wiped out.
In addition, when possible, buy bigger portions of fish fillets, as they tend to come from older fish. “Consuming immature fish is detrimental because those fish can still reproduce and contribute to their species,” Piere warns.
One of the easiest ways to eat seafood in an eco-friendly manner is to buy local and support local fishermen.
“Not only does this allow for a smaller carbon footprint, but it will also be a much cheaper option,” says Piere.
“Knowing where your fish is caught can make a huge difference when it comes to helping the environment.” If you’re from the coast (Gulf, Atlantic or Pacific), shellfish, including clams, oysters, lobsters, crab and shrimp are often local, according to Dixon.
“This means they are produced nearby and require minimal shipping and less time in refrigeration before they reach your plate. This helps cut down on pollution and greenhouse gas production,” she adds.
Choose seafood from countries or organizations with a history of sustainable practices
When not buying local, be smart about where your seafood is coming from. For example, Norway’s fishing industry is strictly regulated to ensure that the fish stocks are maintained and that the entire process is environmentally sound, explains Weisenberger.
“Norwegian farmed salmon are fed an all-natural diet of 70 percent plant-based ingredients and 30 percent marine raw materials that, importantly, are not needed for human consumption,” she says.
“Additionally, there is no over-feeding going on. The salmon eat their feed in the form of pellets delivered by an automated system. The delivery is monitored by people who assure that only the proper amount is delivered.”
By not wasting the feed, she explains, fish farmers are using sustainable practices to take no more resources than necessary. Also in Norway, the fish farms are inspected to be sure that the environmental conditions meet standards.
When selecting lobster, try to score some from the east coast of the US and Canada.
“When lobster stocks declined precipitously in the 80s, the fishing community came up with some self-governing rules, such as throwing back ‘pregnant’ females (apparently you can see the eggs carried under their tails) and throwing back very large lobsters, which are the older, most successful breeders,” explains Dixon.
“By doing this, the lobster stock was able to recover robustly. It’s doing quite well today.” In fact, she says there are so many lobsters that the price of lobster has come down significantly!
Avoid processed seafood
You know that highly processed and packaged food bad for you. However, it also tends to be bad for the environment, as it causes more waste than less processed foods.
“That extra packaging material requires additional energy to produce. Then you have the problem of getting rid of it,” says Weisenberger.
Don’t waste seafood
Nearly half of edible seafood produced in the United States goes to waste each year, according to a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change.
This is one of the most detrimental aspects of seafood consumption in the world, and especially in our country.
“When you consider the vast resources that go into producing any food item that ends up on your plate, it’s tragic and very hard on the environment to throw it out,” says Dixon.
“If it’s in the fridge for more than a day or two, and you don’t have an exact day and time in mind for when you plan to eat it, freeze it!”
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