Whether due to environmentally harmful farming practices or threatened population sizes, these are seafood species to look out for. Read on for our list of seafood you may want to avoid and the reasons why.
Image Credit: Sue Flood
While salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, Atlantic salmon makes up most of the salmon market, and many are farmed in pens and cages that are open to coastal waters. Salmon farming has a large environmental impact. Also, farming salmon in ocean-net pens can release waste into the water that spreads parasites and disease.
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Populations of this deep-sea fish have taken a blow from overfishing due to the fish’s slower maturation rate and late reproduction (it takes this fish between 20 to 40 years to reach sexual maturity).
Image Credit: Karen Gowlett-Holmes
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
With the rise in popularity of sushi in the 1970s and 1980s, demand for Bluefin tuna increased, and overfishing reduced populations to below sustainable levels. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch urges consumers to avoid Bluefin tuna.
Image Credit: Sue Flood
Chilean Seabass (Toothfish)
The fishing industry has made significant changes to address overfishing and bycatch that once severely impacted this overharvested species. However, you may want to avoid toothfish from Crozet Islands, Prince Edwards and Marion Islands, and Chile. If you choose to eat toothfish, you'll want to choose options from Heard and McDonald, the Falklands or Macquarie and consume in small quantities, as this species has elevated levels of mercury.
Image Credit: Richard Ellis
Imported King Crab
About 70 percent of king crab sold in the U.S. market is imported, and most imported crab comes from Russia where fishing regulations aren’t well enforced. According to an article from Rodale, supermarkets sometimes mislabel imported king crab as imported Alaskan king crab, so look closely at the label before purchasing.
Image Credit: Spencer Jones
Most shrimp is farmed through trawling, a fishing method where a net is dragged along the ocean floor. This method damages the ecosystem and catches other marine wildlife to be later discarded (reportedly, for every pound of shrimp there is two to ten pounds of bycatch). Two-thirds of imported shrimp sold in the U.S. are farmed this way. Shrimp farmed in mixed shrimp/mangrove systems, which are open pond systems in mangrove forestry, reduce environmental risk, but clearing mangrove forests to create these shrimp farms harms the ecosystem as well.
Image Credit: Justin Lightley
Abalone from China & Japan
While abalone farmed in land-based tanks or tethered ocean cages have little environmental impact, other farming methods, such as “sea ranches” found in China and Japan, modify the seafloor and disturb other native species.
Image Credit: Fumiaki Yamakazi
Imported, Wild-Caught Sturgeon Caviar
High demand for caviar has impacted the world’s wild sturgeon population, and imported sturgeon and their caviar products are best avoided. Sturgeon populations are threatened by illegal fishing that is poorly regulated abroad, and their slow growth and late reproduction means that they do not recover easily from overfishing.
Image Credit: Tom McHugh
Imported Pacific Cod from Japan and Russia
Lack of effective management and illegal fishing at cod fisheries in Japan and Russia continue to deplete populations of Pacific cod, raising serious concerns for the future of this species.
Image Credit: Dorling Kindersley
Spiny Lobster from Brazil
Buy domestically farmed spiny lobster from Florida, where fisheries operate under strict guidelines, but avoid Caribbean spiny lobster farmed in Nicaragua, Honduras and Brazil. Often, these lobsters are caught illegally or removed from the ecosystem before having a chance to reproduce.
Image Credit: Ursula Alters
Imported, Longline-Caught Mahi Mahi
International longline fleets are not effectively regulated to reduce bycatch, so other animals like sea turtles, seabirds and sharks are often entangled in their fishing lines. Your best bet is to buy hook-and-line caught mahi mahi from U.S. fisheries.
Image Credit: Dough Perrine
In the U.S., management measures to prevent the decline of red snapper populations have proven ineffective, and this species continues to be overfished. It is also believed that red snapper populations from other countries are also threatened by overfishing.
Image Credit: Robert George Young
Canned Wild-Caught Tuna
Troll and pole-and-line gear has little or no bycatch and are ocean-friendly methods of catching tuna. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, you should “avoid all canned tuna that is not labeled as troll- or pole-caught” as “it’s safe to assume environmentally damaging gear was used.”
Image Credit: Klaus Mellenthin
The Monterey Bay Aquarium reports that shark populations are at a historical all-time low and up to an estimated 73 million sharks are caught and killed yearly. Shark populations are declining due to shark finning and accidental death as bycatch.
The seafood industry has taken a toll on the ocean's resources, and many marine species have been impacted. Years of overfishing have reduced some populations to below sustainable levels, and harmful farming practices damage the ecosystem.
Andrew Sharpless' book, The Perfect Protein, sheds light on this issue by arguing that better management of our wild seafood supply allows our oceans to "sustainably provide more fish for the world to eat." He believes we are overlooking major food sources, such as small fish like anchovies, mackerel and sardines, that "could feed millions inexpensively."
By avoiding seafood that is threatened or sourced in ways that harm the environment, we can exercise mindful seafood consumption and give time for the ocean to restore itself. Find out how shrimp causes more harm to the environment than you'd think and why you should take a closer look at the label when shopping for king crab.
Check out the slideshow above to discover which seafood you should avoid eating.