EAT A FISH THAT IS NOT IN THE TOP 10!
Almost every nation on earth consumes a wider variety of seafood than Americans. The fish that we choose are generally bland and unadventurous. According to the National Fisheries Institute, 90% of the seafood consumed in America comes from just 10 types of seafood. The fish in our top ten are not necessarily bad choices, but history has proven that when we lean too much on a particular species, we eventually overfish it. It happened with sardines, which were important to US consumers in the early 1900s. The collapse of sardine populations from overfishing irreparably damaged the economy of Monterey Bay. If you’ve ever been to Cannery row, you will see the artifacts of a dead industry. That entire complex was built to can sardines and now it is a mall. It also caused the general American public to forget about sardines. Sardines are globally quite important, but are inconsequential in the US market. I could also point to swordfish, orange roughy, or the Chilean seabass populations which crashed after demand outstripped supply.
The number one seafood consumed in the US is shrimp which represents over 1/4th of our seafood consumption. Shrimp is delicious and versatile, and well suited to sustainable farming techniques. Our current demand for shrimp can be met by the industry, but there are many bad fisheries and farms with big environmental issues. It can be tough to know if you are making a good choice with shrimp.
Shrimp is followed by canned tuna and salmon, which represents about 15% of US consumption each. Among tunas, there are many good choices available, and the fast growing and abundant albacore tuna is responsibly fished in many places. Not all tuna is sustainable though.
There are many good salmon choices, but many salmon populations are strained. Some salmon farms have environmental issues and farmed salmon often contains much more fat than wild salmon.
After this, there are tilapia, pollock, pangasius (sold as basa or swai), cod, and catfish. These five boring white fish collectively account for about 28% of the total US seafood consumed annually. I don’t have a problem eating any of these, but you can only eat so many plates of fish and chips before you want something more interesting. Crab and clams fill out the top ten with 5% between them. The remaining 10% of US consumption is made up of small amounts of the other hundreds of species that are available.
This week’s challenge is about branching out and trying those other species. It isn’t difficult. If you want to play it safe, go out and find a fillet of rockfish. There are at least 150 species of rockfish, but they are often sold generically as just rockfish. According to Monterey Bay Seafoodwatch, all US caught rockfish are “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” so you can’t go wrong here. These fish are mild flavored, firm, white fish with a pleasing texture. Plus, you won’t find many fish that are more affordable. If you want to be a little more adventurous, try a pompano. It is a very tasty fish with a little more oil content than most. That makes it cook up nice and juicy. It is forgiving in the kitchen, which is to say it does not dry out even if you overcook it. It takes bold flavors very well. All domestic pompano also get the thumbs up from Seafoodwatch. This organization also approves of Branzino, an interesting option with a flavor that’s naturally a bit like it has olive oil for blood. The firm, meaty texture and full flavor of this fish make it memorable, especially if you remove the scales and fry the skin until it is crispy. The same can be said of gilthead sea bream, which is just slightly more flavorful than Branzino. You can't go wrong with cobia, a fish with texture like shark or swordfish, but a flavor like a very mild salmon. Or, try to pick a best choice option from any of the hundreds of others available. It’s that easy. Now go out and enjoy a new fish. It’s fun, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the planet.