Today’s post is by Environmental Defense Fund scientist Tim Fitzgerald.
Seafood is often called brain food. It’s a good source of many different nutrients, including long chain omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish — or taking fish oil supplements — has been linked to a number of cardiovascular and neurological benefits. For this reason, most health experts and the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines encourage people to eat more seafood.
However, a new study in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association calls this recommendation into question, contending that the health benefits of omega-3’s have potentially been oversold while the ocean’s ability to provide them is failing.
The bottom line? The jury is still out on how much fish we should eat, so making eco-friendly choices is essential.
The study’s authors accurately point out that the oceans can no longer provide us with fish (and fish oil) at the current pace. Barely one-quarter of U.S. fisheries are known to be sustainably fished, and the United Nations reports that 80 percent of the world’s fisheries are now either fully fished (i.e. incapable of providing more) or overexploited.
Aquaculture, or fish farming, can help meet additional seafood demand, if done right. But raising carnivorous species like salmon further depletes finite sources of small oily fish, which are used in large quantities to make their feed. These ‘forage’ fish are vital links in the marine food chain and are eaten by larger fish, as well as marine mammals, birds, other wildlife and even humans.
To provide a secure supply of seafood for future generations, recommendations for consuming fish and fish oil must weigh the proven benefits of omega-3’s against the harm done to ocean ecosystems from taking unsustainable quantities of fish from the sea.
Fish (and fish oil) lovers weighing these questions on a personal level can help by choosing sources that are fished or farmed responsibly, that are high in omega-3s and low in environmental contaminants. Arctic char, farmed oysters, sablefish (aka black cod), wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, farmed trout and West Coast albacore tuna are some of the choices that are safe to eat and safe for the environment.