Want to Dine Well, Save Money and Protect the Oceans? Eat Weird Fish

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Whether you're talking about nutrition or taste, fish is hard to resist. High in protein and nutrients, low in cholesterol and saturated fats, it lends itself to dozens of different cuisines and thousands of different dishes. And, while there are some dangers associated with factory-farmed seafood, eating farm-raised fish is hardly the culinary Russian roulette of consumer beef, pork or chicken. On the surface, fish seems like the perfect food for concerned consumers. Unfortunately, however, environmental issues lurk below the surface.

The biggest problem with fish is that its public relations have, arguably, been too good. A handful of well-known species -- including salmon, tuna, sea bass, and swordfish -- have captured the public attention, and its palate. Fishing fleets sail far and wide to collect these restaurant favorites; in the process, they have often overfished many of the classics, driving prices up and breeding populations down.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Many of the popular fish are predators, but things are also pretty bad on the other end of the food chain. Some less-beloved forage fish, like sardines and anchovies, are also heavily fished, either for use as high-protein animal feed, or as the base ingredient in nutritional supplements. By intensively harvesting these fish, companies diminish the bottom of the food chain, further endangering salmon, tuna, swordfish, and all the other species that are higher up the ladder.

So how can you satisfy your craving for finny friends without blowing all your money or destroying the ocean? The answer is simple: Eat weird fish. The species that you've heard of, that you grew up eating, are the same ones that are currently struggling to survive. On the other hand, there are dozens that you probably haven't heard of that are much less at risk and would taste great on your plate. Several resources, notably the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, offer lists of sustainable fish. Monterey Bay, in fact, even offers a smartphone app that can make it easy to scan the menu for sustainable choices.

In fact, while it might be overstating to claim that your fish-eating choices can actually help the environment, there are some invasive species that are crowding out more popular choices. If you can develop a taste for swamp eel, walking catfish or rusty crawfish, you could conceivably open up a little more space for other species. In the meantime, though, here are a few of our favorite less-common fish choices:

Want to Dine Well, Save Money and Protect the Oceans? Eat Weird Fish
Also known as sablefish, Alaska cod, butterfish, gindara, or sable, black cod is a light, soft-textured fish that is similar to Chilean sea bass. It primarily comes from the Pacific Northwest, where it is very carefully, responsibly farmed.
Catfish is a great example of how where a fish comes from can make a big difference in its environmental impact. Seafood Watch promotes the consumption of U.S. farm-raised catfish for its vegetarian diet, sustainability, and the fact that farm-raised fish reduce the demand for wild-caught catfish.

Pictured: A black bullhead catfish.
Also known as black kingfish, black salmon, ling, or lemonfish, U.S. farm-raised cobia is notable for its quick maturation and extreme cost-effectiveness. It also has a firm, delicious flesh.

Speaking as someone who has wild-caught more than a few croakers, there's something alarming about these fish: Simply put, it's a little weird to hear a fish making frog sounds when you pull it out of the ocean. But there's nothing weird about their flavor: mild and delicious, they can be cooked with minimal seasoning. And, given that they're on Seafood Watch's "best choice" list, they're also a definite guilt-free choice.

Pictured: White croaker

Known by a wide variety of names, yellow perch is a freshwater lake fish that is commonly found in the U.S. and Canada. Once heavily overfished, it has rebounded in the U.S., especially Lake Erie, where Seafood Watch lists it among their best choices.
Remember those pictures with the big-eyed kids that were so popular in the seventies? Well, if they ever made you hungry, this is the fish for you. The big-eyed scad has a huge, sad gaze vaguely reminiscent of owls, Dobby from "Harry Potter," or Mitch McConnell. If you can get past that, however, it makes a delicious, sustainable entree.
If you like smoked salmon, a great alternative is smoked whitefish. Native to the Great Lakes, it's a delicious, mild fish that tastes great when made into a salad. Personally, I like to substitute it in this smoked trout recipe, which uses celery, dill and walnuts.
By now, tilapia no longer officially counts as a "weird" fish: It has been widely available and popular for years, and it is already a well-known choice for those seeking to eat sustainably. But, well-known or otherwise, it's still ranked as one of Seafood Watch's favorite choices. And with a mild, light flavor, it's a great choice for dishes that use a strong marinade or sauce.
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Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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