“What fish would you like with your poke bowl? Rockfish, opah, sardines?”
How often do you hear these fish choices at your local poke place? The fish choices at poke shops and most restaurants tend to be large, overfished species such as salmon and tuna that are excessively eaten in the US.
These bigger predatory fish are higher up on the food chain and can have higher concentrations of pollutants and toxins such as mercury through a process called biomagnification, a process that concentrates toxins, such as mercury, in “top of the food chain organisms” which results when they ingest other plants or animals in which the toxins are normally more widely dispersed. Eating these bigger fish in excess is detrimental to human
health and fishing for them is detrimental to environmental health. By opting for small “less popular” seafood that tastes just as good without the pollutants, consumers can play a role in preserving the larger species while also supporting healthy choices.
Are all small fish and seafood safe to eat and therefore, a better alternative to bigger seafood? Not necessarily. Wild shrimp are often caught by enormous trawls ragged over the bottom of the ocean. The total catch can be as low as 10 percent shrimp; everything else dredged up can get tossed back into the ocean, dead. But making a market for this bycatch and supporting smaller operations that catch more of their targets can help eliminate waste.
Larger fish are also commonly mislabeled, as their high demand puts increasing pressure on the ocean. Players in the global seafood industry take advantage of this by fueling the popularity of big fish, increasing demand. They also practice mislabeling, selling one species of fish as another more recognizable one. For example, escolar, a smaller incidental catch to tuna, is commonly mislabeled as yellowfin tuna because of similar coloring and texture. But escolar is a completely different fish and can make people sick if they eat too much of it due to a naturally-occurring indigestible,
fatty wax molecule found in its flesh. However in small amounts (and when you know what you're eating), escolar is healthy and delicious.
So why do we only eat and see salmon, tuna, and shrimp most of the time? Why do we view any other fish as “exotic?” We have been conditioned to eat these big popular fish by habit and familiarity. When Americans think of a restaurant quality fish dinner or sushi, we mainly think of these big fish. While trying different types of seafood is good for the environment and your health, it is also a way to expand your culinary palate. It is a gateway to explore other cuisines and cultures that utilize these seafood. So why not go out and try some new types of fish?
Maybe you’ll enjoy it; the planet, your body, and the ecosystem surely will!