Can We Consume Fish and Other Marine Foods Sustainably?

Fish is generally considered a healthy alternative to red meat. Also chock-full of protein and nutrients that the body needs, it is a desired source of omega-3 fatty acids for positive effects on heart health as well as overall wellness. 

However, there have been concerns around consuming fish and marine foods including algae and shellfish. Is it actually environment-friendly and sustainable to choose to consume them, and how about the dangers of contaminated waters? Let’s have a quick look at the concerns. 

Nutritional Value and Contamination

Fish is recommended to be included in your diet two to three times a week. Rotating the fish types may be necessary. 

In fish as in other aspects of life, it’s important to choose carefully. There are concerns about the high levels of mercury in some cold-water fish, particularly bigger ones that tend to retain more toxins given their higher body weight. 

Some suitable options, according to experts, include wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, and rainbow trout. These have good concentrations of the fatty acids while maintaining low mercury levels. 

When it comes to shellfish, they may not offer as high levels of omega-3 fats but they are lower in calories and also provide lean protein and a formidable nutrient lineup, including vitamins A, B12,  and D and iron and zinc. 

Sustainability in Question

Fish and seafood consumption also come at a certain environmental cost. There may be wastage, pollution, and bycatch, or unintentionally catching species of marine species. While some parties argue that there isn’t such a thing as sustainable fishing, others rebut that fish stocks can be replenished with the right recovery plan for the long term. 

Entities such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Fishwatch list fish that are both healthy and sustainable. 

When it comes to regaining healthy fish populations, there are pockets of hope, including signs that their populations are bouncing back in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean as well as the Baltic Sea. 

What Can Be Done?

If wild fish stocks are unable to provide the amount needed for humans to get their fix of fatty acids, one apparent solution is fish farming or aquaculture. Fish becomes cheaper to buy this way and supply becomes more predictable. 

Of course, there’s always this question: Is farmed fish as good as wild-caught stock? The difference lies in the environment of the fish and what it eats. Farmed salmon, for instance, may supply 40% more calories than its wild counterpart, so consumers have to be aware of these things when making a conscious choice between the two (if they have the luxury of choosing, that is). 

Algae such as sea moss has garnered so much attention recently as the potential answer to food shortage and security issues. Due to the risk of chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides likely accumulating on shorelines where algae grows, experts recommend looking for products that contain organic raw material, such as organic sea moss. 

Overharvesting is still a key issue with the algae population, so consumers are also best to review available information about whether the sea moss or algae was harvested with sustainability in mind. 

As regards minimizing pollution, combining various types of aquaculture may be key, as recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a 2020 report. There are also organizations that watch aquaculture practices and certify farms that meet standards via independent testing and inspections. 

Final Note

Another challenge: ensure you are consuming a varied diet. More than eating fish, incorporate healthy fats and consume everything in moderation. If your diet is unable to sufficiently provide the nutrients you need, then high-quality supplementation is a route worth exploring, especially with your health care provider’s guidance.