Figuring Out Fish

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The health benefits of fish; great for the brain, a low-fat source of rich protein, a way to fit into “sexy jeans?” are bountiful, but unfortunately, many fish populations are not. Farm-raised fish have their own problems too. While there are many great resources that exist to help us through the sustainable seafood quandary (like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and others), the dangers of bioaccumulated mercury in bigger fish, like tuna and swordfish, are concerning. Gavin Gibbons, the vice president of the National Fisheries Institute argues otherwise in his recent OpEd piece that appears in Forbes.

But for too long, these cautions have been drowned out by well-funded activist groups whose ideological agenda—and whose bottom line—depend on scaring the daylights out of Americans.

Their boogeyman of choice is mercury. And they have been beating that drum for decades, warning that amidst the witches brew of pollutants spewed by coal-fired power plants, mercury was making its way into the fish on our plates. All manner of dreadful, irreversible health consequences were alleged to follow, for ourselves and our children. We’ve all heard the scare stories and dire warnings for pregnant women and the lectures from wannabe celebrity gurus. It’s scary stuff, and as the activists themselves readily admit, an effective fundraising message.

It is true that there are trace amounts of organic mercury—called methylmercury—in fish. But it’s also true that no published, peer-reviewed scientific study can locate a single case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood in the United States. Nor is there any evidence that countries like Japan, where the average consumer eats as much as ten times more seafood than Americans, have suffered from an epidemic of mercury poisoning.

The folks at Environmental Working Group (EWG) are seeking to shed a little more light on the intersection of environmental sustainability and human health when it comes to fish. Their newly launched EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood is quick way to determine which fish are richest in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lowest in mercury contamination and sustainably produced. Use the this tool to plug in simple demographic information (age range, sex, weight and, history of heart disease) and their algorithm will spit out a list of the best types of fish for you and how much of it you can eat per week. An invaluable feature is the Seafood Calculator which determines the percentage of weekly mercury that one serving of each fish on your list contains.

Hopefully, this will take a little more of the uncertainty out of getting those omega-3’s to where they are needed.

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