Seafood Decision Guide

Seafood Decision Guide

National Geographic has retired its Seafood Decision Guide.

It's important to investigate the source and content of your seafood choices. Read below for great resources available from experts in the fields of fisheries and health.

Seafood is heart-healthy, low in fat, and high in protein. It’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, critically important in brain development and the reason the FDA now recommends pregnant and nursing women to consume seafood every week.

Yet making the best seafood choices for you and your family can be daunting. Is it sustainable? What about mercury? Which seafood has the most omega-3s? We’ve pulled together a brief overview of these key issues and compiled some of the best resources to help you make a decision that’s healthy, sustainable—and delicious.

Is it sustainable?

Sustainable fisheries target plentiful species, including those smaller and lower on the food chain, because they can reproduce quickly to sustain their populations. They also mandate environmental safeguards like curbing bycatch and reducing dredging and other destructive fishing practices. Sustainable wild fisheries must be well managed, with accurate population monitoring and regulations that can track seafood from the fishing boat to the dinner table. Aquaculture is a big part of the picture. Fish farms produce half of all the seafood the world eats—but not all of them are created equal. True sustainable operations minimize environmental impacts such as pollution, disease, and other damage to coastal ecosystems on which wild species depend. They also avoid using wild-caught fish as feed, a practice that puts enormous additional stress on wild fish stocks.

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Why are omega-3s important?

Scientific studies show the health benefits of a diet rich in elongated omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). These essential nutrients are available from a wide variety of seafood and have been shown to have beneficial impacts on brain development in children and prevention of heart disease in adults. Shorter omega-3 fats, found in plants and nuts, can also be converted by the body into the long-chain versions. The World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of 200 to 500 milligrams of omega-3s (DHA and EPA combined), which can easily be met with a couple of servings of fish each week.

Do I need to worry about mercury?

Mercury is present in seawater in small quantities. It gets into the marine food chain starting at the very bottom, absorbed by microscopic algae. Larger, carnivorous species like sharks and swordfish tend to accumulate the most toxins because they’re higher on the food chain and live longer. Mercury accumulates over time in the fish and is then passed on to humans when we eat them. Women who are pregnant or nursing and individuals who eat seafood more than three times per week should choose fish low in mercury.

Great tools for choosing healthy, sustainable seafood:

Seafood Calculator, Environmental Working Group
EWG has compiled information on sustainability, omega-3 fatty acids, and mercury in this tool that allows you to create a custom seafood list based on your age, weight, and more.

Seafood Selector, Environmental Defense Fund
Covering the seafood most available in the marketplace, EDF’s guide allows consumers to focus on sustainability and also consider health implications.

Seafood Watch, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Seafood Watch helps consumers and businesses choose sustainable seafood, with detailed information on how products are fished or farmed.

FishWatch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NOAA’s FishWatch is not a buying guide but instead helps consumers understand science, laws, and management in order to make informed seafood choices.