What’s the Safest Seafood to Eat?

fishThe FDA recently released it’s “final advice” on which fish to eat and which to avoid. It’s not much different than in previous years – save a new attempt to make the info more accessible. All good, right?

Not according to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, (CSPI), a nonprofit advocacy group. CSPI has declared the FDA’s advice “bad medicine” – especially for developing brains. The agency continues to recommend that adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, eat 4-ounce servings of “low-mercury” fish or shellfish two or three times a week. That includes some kinds of tuna.

“If pregnant women or small kids followed the new advice from the government on mercury and tuna they could easily consume more mercury than is safe for developing brains,” [senior scientist Lisa] Lefferts said in a written statement issued by CSPI on Thursday.

While fish is a valuable component to a healthy diet, providing protein with heart healthy omega-3 fats, the FDA did acknowledge that

However, all fish contain at least traces of mercury, which can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much of it over time. The maximum level of consumption recommended in the final advice is consistent with the previous recommended level of 12 ounces per week.

Tuna, notorious for its mercury content, is the most commonly found fish in home pantries, fed to children and adults alike.
All this points to the continued importance of knowing which types of fish tend to harbor mercury and which are lowest in this toxic heavy metal. To that end, the FDA has provided a list for consumers about which fish to eat and which to avoid.

FDA safe fish chart

But according to CSPI’s Lefferts, the best advice is for pregnant or nursing women and parents of small children is to choose fish that are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines. They should avoid albacore tuna altogether and consume tuna labeled as “light tuna” very sparingly — no more than 2 ounces per week for women and 1 ounce per week for kids.

Even so, it’s still necessary for consumers to take precautions to ensure the fish they eat is safe, especially when eating locally caught seafood. In consultation with the EPA, the FDA suggests

For fish caught recreationally, consumers are urged to check for local advisories where they are fishing and gauge their fish consumption based on any local and state advisories for those waters. If no information on fishing advisories is available, eat just one fish meal a week from local waters and also, avoid other fish that week.

And if you’re curious as to how mercury ends up in fish, reread this, then check out the Mercury Policy Project for updates and their low-mercury fish and shellfish guide.

Then make your shopping just a little bit easier. Print out and carry a copy of the NRDC’s wallet card with you when shopping or eating out, or get EWG’s customized seafood guide to always have at hand.

To help you make sustainable choices – of which healthy fish habitat is also a focus – check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch page and get their smartphone app.

Image by Bill Dickinson, via Flickr