With the information that the public has recently gained access to over the last decade or so, more and more people are prioritizing sustainability when it comes to their diet. While some choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, others opt for consuming only organic, ethically sourced animal products — this includes seafood.

Making the switch to following a healthy diet and eating only sustainable or organic seafood can be difficult at first because you have to learn to identify which foods are best for both your body and the environment. Here are four things you should know about eating healthy, sustainable seafood.

1. Check the Mercury Level

Industrial practices and other coal-burning companies are causing mercury levels in the oceans to increase, meaning seafood lovers should beware of the actual contents of what they’re eating.

In general, larger predator fish have higher mercury levels than smaller creatures due to biomagnification. In this process, the predator also absorbs the chemicals found in their prey. So, when you eat a swordfish that previously consumed a few anchovies, you are essentially ingesting the mercury levels of both the swordfish and all those anchovies.

Stick to eating seafood at the bottom of the food chain to avoid consuming high levels of mercury.

2. Add Diversity to Your Diet

By a similar token, an excellent way to maintain a sustainable diet when eating seafood is to opt for species that people do not commonly eat. In general, five kinds of seafood are in high demand year after year:

  •      Salmon
  •      Shrimp
  •      Canned tuna
  •      Pollock
  •      Tilapia

Do the planet a favor and mix up your menus to balance out the demand. Try incorporating species like clams, herring, mussels and catfish into your diet. Not only will you enjoy having more variety in what you eat, but these foods are also more sustainable and affordable.

3. Learn the Difference Between Farm-Raised and Wild-Caught Fish

Food manufacturers make so many claims about their products — organic, all-natural, vegan, gluten-free, etc. — that it can be challenging to keep track of what they all mean. When you’re shopping for seafood, you probably see phrases like “farm-raised” and “wild-caught” fish. What’s the difference, and which one is better for you and the environment? Here’s what to know:

  •      Farm-Raised: Farm-raised fish are raised in commercial settings, where they consume low-quality food — which typically consists of grains, corn, fish oil, and ground-up fish — in order to make the seafood cheaper so more people will purchase it. For salmon specifically, their diet also consists of food coloring to create the pink hue, which the species normally gets from consuming krill in the wild. Despite its clear health issues, 90 percent of fish consumption in the U.S. is farm-raised seafood.
  •      Wild-Caught: Fishermen catch wild-caught seafood from its natural habitat, and its nutritional value is thought to be much higher than that of farm-raised fish. Wild-caught fish contain no antibiotics and are significantly less likely to carry disease or infections. Since they eat a natural diet, wild-caught seafood usually has more nutrients than farm-raised alternatives.

4. Support Local Fisheries

No matter what you’re eating, it’s always more sustainable to buy your food from local sources — and that includes local fisheries. If you have a community-supported fishery near you, this is an excellent place to purchase your seafood. You’ll be able to get information like who caught your fish, when and where they caught it and how they caught it.

If you don’t have a CSF, going to a local fish market is more sustainable than shopping for seafood at large-scale, corporate grocery stores.

Know What to Look for to Enjoy a Sustainable Seafood Diet

It’s possible to enjoy a diet that’s healthy for both you and the planet, as long as you take steps to learn how to do it. Do your research and know what to look for as you shop for sustainable seafood in your area.

Emily Folk
Conservation and Sustainability Writer

[email protected]  conservationfolks.com