If I am confused about what fish to eat and have spent my life studying nutrition and environmental science, then I imagine most people are confused. I am left with so many questions and had almost given up trying to figure it out. Until I met Tim O'Shea, the founder of Clean Fish, Inc, a company, aspiration and a movement that brings together artisanal fishermen and fish farmers and champions them in the marketplace under transparent, traceable brands.
Tim and I took a walk through the hills of San Francisco, past the homes of senators, down through the old army base, the Presidio, where sculptured trails wind through the woods, through the center of George Lucas' Star Wars headquarters, and down to the Palace of Fine Arts, the home of 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition which displayed the world's wonders of modern (as of 1915) technology, agriculture and food products. In a few hours we traversed the worlds of government, wilderness, imagination and the celebration of progress and technology. A perfect backdrop for figuring out just what fish to eat in 2011 so we don't destroy the world's oceans or poison ourselves with all the progress we have made.
Should I eat farmed fish or wild fish? Is farmed fish or wild fish better for the health of my body and the planet? Which wild fish are endangered? Which fish have too many toxins and will give me mercury poisoning or too many PCB's? Which are caught in ways that destroy the oceans by scooping up and killing 10 pounds of extra seafood for every one pound of fish that is kept for sale?
Are all farmed fish the same? Do farmed fish have too many PCB's, hormones and antibiotics? Or worse, by eating genetically engineered "Frankenfish" that could escape through torn nets and interbreed with the wild fish stocks, are we doing more harm than good to our bodies and the earth? Is there a difference between industrial fish farming factories or "feedlot fish" and sustainable, artisanal fish farming practices? Should all farmed fish be raised in above ground aquaculture pens to preserve the oceans in their pristine state (oops, too late for that)? Are monoculture fish farms using sustainable practices enough, or just another form of monoculture crop that doesn't leverage biodiversity to restore healthy biodiverse living systems? Should we only be eating fish raised in fish farms that use restorative and regenerative practices, which build up the biodiversity of the oceans and restore livings systems, rather than just "sustain" what is currently a very fragile ocean ecosystem?
And what do farmed fish eat? Are we raping the oceans of small fish and ocean critters at the bottom of the food chain to feed the farmed fish? Or are we feeding farmed fish corn pellets and canola oil because the fish pellets are too expensive, leaving us with the equivalent of corn fed fish high in the inflammatory omega-6 fats? How will we get the omega-3 fats our bodies need to function (and which over 90 percent of us are deficient in) if we don't eat wild fish or farmed fish fed wild fish pellets?
What is the fish farming equivalent of Michael Pollan's grass farmer? Is there a way to create bio-diverse aquatic ecosystems that generates the food (like funky little worms and algae) for the fish to eat so we don't have to drag the oceans for little fish or grow corn for fish food? Grass farmers create healthy byproducts such as lamb, chicken and beef from cultivating grass and soil. What's the equivalent of grass farming for the oceans so we can eat clean, fresh fish and go to sleep at night with full bellies and a clear conscience? Can we change fishing practices to sustainably harvest wild fish by changing the equipment fishermen use so they don't kill 10 pounds of seafood caught in the nets as byproducts for every pound of fish we eat? Can we prevent genetic intermingling of wild and farmed stocks by farming only genetically bio-identical, local species of fish that belong in the local ecosystem?
It's enough to make the fish lover throw up their hands and say, "I'll have the double cheeseburger with fries." Eating fish seems impossible if you are interested in staying healthy by getting enough omega-3 fats while avoiding mercury poisoning and destroying the oceans. And of course there is the industrial agriculture, and feedlot fish producer's argument that we cannot feed the world's exploding population without large scale, monoculture crops supported by petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, and hormones and antibiotics. Food, Inc. also includes Fish, Inc. Beware.
By the end of our walk through the hills of San Francisco I was left hopeful that we could achieve, as Tim said, a triple bottom line, optimizing natural, human and financial capital. False dichotomy that something is either good for the environment or good for business is no longer relevant as the science and creativity for creating sustainable, regenerative systems that support local economics, global markets, planetary and individual health have evolved.
Clean Fish is committed to finding, sourcing and distributing the world's best wild seasonal and farmed fish including Loch Duart Scottish Salmon, Laughing Bird Caribbean White Shrimp, and Peruvian Blue Tilapia. The founders are also committed to funding and creating new methods of feeding farmed fish creating the equivalent of "grass farms" in the ocean and transforming fishing practices by innovative changes in equipment and fish feed. Nurturing, scaling and re-inventing restorative and regenerative fish practices that provide a delicious, quality, low toxin fish sources may take a decade to flourish if we drive the demand and support the vision. If not, we may not have fish to eat and the last wild thing in our diet will have become extinct, with us possibly not too far behind.
Doing a little homework and changing our choices can help us support our health and the planet. In fact, the most powerful tool to change your health, the environment, and shift global markets is your fork. You vote with it three times a day and the choices you make control the behavior of biological and institutional corporate bodies.
Here are a few things you can do to help yourself and the oceans:
1. When possible, eat fish either farmed or caught with sustainable, restorative, regenerative practices. Check out www.cleanfish.com to find out which brands and companies to choose from.
2. Stay away from toxic or endangered fish. Use the Natural Resources Defense Council's wallet card when choosing fish.
3. Eat from the lowest mercury fish group and avoid the rest, except for a treat a few times a year if you must. Also, their warning about farmed salmon is only relevant to "feedlot fish" -- not sustainably raised salmon such as Loch Duart Scottish Salmon.
4. Omega-3 fats are essential for the functioning of every cell in your body and 90 percent of us do not consume enough of them. Read more about the health benefits of omega-3s.
5. Consider home testing to see if you are omega-3 fat deficient. You will see if you need an oil change.
6. If you are omega-3 fat deficient, take purified fish oil, at least 1,000-2,000 mg of EPA/DHA a day.
7. Watch me on "The Doctor Oz Show" on January 26, 2011 to learn more about omega-3 fats, home testing and what fish oil supplements to take.
To learn more about using your fork to effect change in our world visit www.drhyman.com.
Now I'd like to hear from you.
Are you confused about what fish to eat?
Are you worried about mercury toxicity from wild fish and PCB's from farmed fish?
Have you found other sources of safe, healthy, sustainable fish?
Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.