Fish is considered an important part of a healthy diet. However, deciding to eat fish these days is controversial. Issues include overfishing, mercury, dioxins and the nutritional value of farm-grown versus wild-caught fish.
Kate McLaughlin, seafood program director for the conservation organization Blue Ocean Institute in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., estimates that close to a third of wild fish populations around the world are overfished, and another 53 percent are fished to capacity.
Most Americans don’t eat enough fish. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people eat about 3.5 to 8 ounces a week. If a woman is considering pregnancy or nursing, the recommended intake is 12 ounces per week.
At a time when we are being encouraged to eat more fish, we also are being made aware of the worldwide issues concerning fishing.
In America, 90 percent of the fish we eat is limited to 10 species. In descending order of consumption, they are: shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, tilapia, pollock, catfish, crab, cod, pangasius and clams.
Gavin Gibbons, spokesperson for the National Fisheries Institute, says it’s time that we moved out of the wild versus farmed paradigm. He says it isn’t possible for wild salmon fisheries to fill the year-round demand for salmon. Americans consume 350 million tons of salmon a year, and wild stocks only can sustain about a third of what we consume. If Americans chose to eat only wild salmon, it would put overwhelming pressure on those populations.
Why eat fish? Fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, sardines and mackerel, are considered good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of blood clots, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for heart attacks. Omega-3s also have been found to reduce inflammation, which lowers your risk of heart disease.
What about mercury? Many people avoid fish because of a misconception that all fish and seafood have high levels of mercury, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. What research actually shows is that fish contamination is comparable with that of other protein foods such as chicken, beef and pork. Greater than 90 percent of dioxin and PCBs in the U.S. food supply comes from food sources other than seafood.
Because mercury is a toxin that accumulates, it is recommended that pregnant and lactating women and young children avoid eating the following long-lived fish: swordfish, shark, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and king mackerel. The Environmental Protection Agency has no health warning recommendation that limits seafood consumption for any other population group.
So what can we do? Try eating a variety of fish for a change — a type that is underutilized or one you may not have eaten before.
How about scup? Scup, sometimes called porgy, is a fish that’s abundant from Long Island to Massachusetts. It’s high in selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, niacin and phosphorus, while low in sodium and a low-fat source of protein. Scup is a lean fish that contains a lot of bones, which does make it hard to fillet. It is often cooked as a “pan fish” since it is small, making it easy to saute or pan fry.
Recipe from Food Network:
Porgy Roman Style
1 (3-pound) porgy or sea bass
2 pounds fresh peas (or frozen)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
Grilled yellow squash
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut, clean and scale the fish and season with salt and pepper inside and out. If using fresh peas, shell the peas and set aside. In a saute pan large enough to hold the fish, heat the olive oil until smoking. Place the fish in the pan and shake vigorously. Saute 2 or 3 minutes, until the fish starts to crisp on the first side, and then flip it over. Add the garlic and place in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. Remove and place the pan on the burner and remove the fish to a service platter. Add the peas, scallions and white wine to the pan and saute 1 minute. Add the mint leaves and immediately pour the sauce over the fish. Serve with some grilled yellow squash and portion tableside.
For information about dioxins and food safety, visit www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodContaminantsAdulteration/ChemicalContaminants/DioxinsPCBs/ucm077524.htm.
For U.S. seafood facts, visit www.fishwatch.gov/wild_seafood/in_the_us.htm.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.