Five Fish to Keep Off Your Plate

Plus, three that are safe to eat again

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Three Fish that Have Rebounded

While avoiding unsustainable seafood can seem like a nuisance, the good news is that it works. The oceans are resilient, and by avoiding certain species now, we will hopefully be able to enjoy them again one day. The past few decades have seen several species leave Seafood Watch’s red list. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sheila Bowan believes it’s a result of people making sustainable choices. “It’s a customer-driven kind of movement,” she says. “So I would really put credit into the hands of the chefs and the consumers.” To celebrate the successes, here are a few fish you can now enjoy guilt-free, at least in moderation:

MONKFISH – Not long ago, this so-called “poor man’s lobster” (and its tasty liver) were on the red list. That changed about a year ago, when populations bounced back enough to move back to the yellow list.

RED SNAPPER – The most recent fish to come out of the red occured only a few months ago. Today, depending on where and how it’s caught, most red snapper is considered a good alternative to other more endangered fish.

SWORDFISH – In the 1990s, a handful of New York chefs began to notice that the swordfish at their local fish market were getting smaller every year. So in 1998, they launched Give Swordfish a Break, a campaign encouraging chefs and consumers to avoid the fish. Within three years, the population had recovered to 94 percent of healthy levels, and today, most swordfish are on the green or yellow list, depending on how they’re caught.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent years among seafood lovers, as we’ve become more aware of the precarious state of the world’s seafood populations. Here in Las Vegas, diners know they can trust the fish offered at RM Seafood and Border Grill to be 100 percent sustainable. But what can you do when you’re dining elsewhere, or shopping for seafood to cook at home?

In addition to its website and pocket guides, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch ( offers a regularly updated free app for Apple and Android devices that tells you which species fall on their red list (species to avoid) and which qualify as either green (best choices) or yellow (good alternatives). In the meantime, here are five that you should always avoid and, in some cases, suggestions for more responsible substitutions.

The most prized and expensive variety of tuna is also the most endangered, thanks to its popularity among sushi aficionados. According to a report last year in The Guardian, the bluefish population in the Northern Pacific has dropped more than 96 percent. If you want tuna, stick with yellowfin or ahi, as long as it comes from the U.S. or Hawaii.

This common fish is another one on the red list due to its endangered status. The website suggests substituting whiting, bream or gurnard.

The popularity of shark-fin soup as a status symbol in the Chinese community has led to the practice of finning, in which sharks are caught, have their fins cut off and are released back into the ocean to drown. It’s cruel, wasteful and is decimating the shark population. Because sharks (like bluefin) are top-level predators, their shrinking numbers affect many levels of the ocean ecosystem.

Salmon isn’t endangered, thanks in part to the practice of farming. But most of those farms—which are actually giant pens in the ocean—have a devastating effect on the surrounding areas thanks to the hormones and pesticides used as well as the large concentration of waste. If you want to enjoy salmon, your best bet is to purchase a wild-caught variety. Or try arctic char, a green-list fish that’s very similar.

Looking at Seafood Watch’s sushi guide, there are a few familiar products that are sadly in the red column. The most prevalent of these is probably yellowtail, or hamachi. Fortunately, there are plenty of green and yellow alternatives, including sweet shrimp, yellowfin tuna, wild-caught salmon, mackerel and sea urchin.


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