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November 21, 2011
8 Fish and Seafood Varieties You Should Never Consider Eating

Contrary to popular belief, most fish is no longer good for you due to the massive sources of pollution in the ocean, genetic modification and farming practices which have literally transformed many species into swimming poison.

The fact that the USDA has increased its seafood recommendation to 8 ounces per week are leaving many experts dumbfounded as to why they would make this recommendation since fish are getting more toxic, not less. Many species are so high in contaminants like mercury that their health benefits are outweighed by their health risks. Others are flown in from halfway around the world, but given labels that make you think they were caught fresh earlier that morning. And still others are raised in filthy, overcrowded pools and loaded up with chemicals to keep them alive.  

Mercury contamination of all seafood is a widespread public health concern. In fact, pregnant women, children and women who might become pregnant should avoid the consumption of swordfish, tuna and orange roughy due to their high methyl-mercury content. In addition to being toxic for humans, swordfish and many other species of fish are being caught in ways that are devastating ocean habitats and fisheries. Longline fishing, the fishing method used to catch swordfish, kills thousands of sea turtles per year.

There are dozens of species unworthy of consumption, however due to their popularity and accessibility, here are 7 you should stay away from.


Why It's Bad
: At .976 ppm (parts per million), it has the highest mercury content of any fish out there. The bio accumulation of methyl mercury is worse the higher up the food chain that you go hence swordfish is fairly bad because it's higher up the food chain. The same argument can be justified for shark and marlin. Mercury pollutants have to be made into bio-available methyl mercury by anaerobic sulfur based bacteria. These only exist in certain regions so if you can get swordfish that's from an area without the deep water sulfur based bacteria then you can avoid the high contamination levels. Problem is that these anoxic regions are growing every year due to warmer waters which carry less oxygen thereby favouring anaerobic organisms over aerobic.

#2: TUNA

Why It's Bad
: At .639 ppm, it's a close second to swordfish, especially big eye and blue fin tuna. The New York Times found that Atlantic bluefin tuna has the highest levels of mercury of any type of tuna. To top it off, bluefin tuna are severely overharvested, to the point of reaching near-extinction levels, and are considered "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rather than trying to navigate the ever-changing recommendations for which tuna is best, consider giving it up altogether.


Why It's Bad
: At .554 ppm, orange roughy is still very high in mercury toxicity. Like most deep sea dwelling fish, orange roughy take a long time to grow to maturity, and are easy to threaten with overfishing. Extensive deep sea fishing for over two decades resulted in severe depletion of adult stocks. Orange roughy do not generally breed until they reach 30 years of age. Scientists predict it could take decades for orange roughy populations to recover from heavy fishing which have decimated the species. The Environmental Defense Fund has issued a health advisory.

ATLANTIC SALMON (Both Wild-caught and Farmed)

Why It's Bad: Although salmon is typically lower in mercury concentrations, the recent devasting events in Fukushima, Japan, have many scientists questioning whether Atlantic salmon should ever be consumed again due to high radioactive isotope levels. It's actually illegal to capture wild Atlantic salmon because the fish stocks are so low, and they're low, in part, because of farmed salmon. Salmon farming is very polluting: Thousands of fish are crammed into pens, which leads to the growth of diseases and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides. Often, the fish escape and compete with native fish for food, leading to declines in native populations.

A study with mice proved that a diet high in farmed salmon contaminated by persistent organic pollutants - POPs - contributes to weight gain and increases the risk of diabetes.

Adding to our salmon woes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is moving forward with approving genetically engineered salmon to be sold, unlabeled, to unsuspecting seafood lovers. That salmon would be farmed off the coast of Panama, and it's unclear how it would be labeled. Currently, all fish labeled "Atlantic salmon" come from fish farms. They're also fed pellets that contain pink dye--that's how they get their color.

#5: FLATFISH (Flounder, Sole and Halibut)

Why It's Bad: This group of fish includes flounder, sole, and halibut that are caught off the Atlantic coast. Although flounder and sole have relatively low levels of mercury, halibut still remains on the higher end at .252 ppm. Flatfish have found their way onto the list because of heavy contamination and overfishing that dates back to the 1800s. According to Food and Water Watch, populations of these fish are as low as 1 percent of what's necessary to be considered sustainable for long-term fishing.


Why It's Bad: Considered as a healthier fish due to it's high mineral magnesium, mackerel is just as bad as the top five when it comes to mercury. Most of the world eats Spanish Gulf mackerel which is quite high in mercury toxicity at 0.454 ppm. No more than 4 ounces of mackerel should be consumed at one time and preferably on once per month.


Why It's Bad: The biggest problem with imported crab is that most of it comes from Russia, where limits on fish harvests aren't strongly enforced. But this crab also suffers from something of an identity crisis: Imported king crab is often misnamed Alaskan king crab, because most people think that's the name of the crab. And supermarkets often add to the confusion by labeling imported king crab "Alaskan King Crab, Imported." But Alaskan king crab--crab that actually hails from the great state of Alaska--is a completely separate animal and is much more responsibly harvested than the imported stuff.


Why It's Bad Imported shrimp actually holds the designation of being the dirtiest of all the seafood we looked at. Problem is, 90 percent of shrimp sold in the world is usually imported. Imported farmed shrimp comes with a whole bevy of contaminants including antibiotics, residues from chemicals used to clean pens, E. coli, mouse hair, rat hair, and pieces of insects. Yum! Part of this has to do with the fact that less than 2 percent of all imported seafood (shrimp, crab, catfish, or others) gets inspected before its sold. Even domestic seafood may present problems.

Due to the BP oil spill Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has called on federal officials to conduct a more rigorous testing regimen for Gulf of Mexico shrimp and seafood after the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proclaimed the shrimp and seafood safe to eat. Proanediol levels in the gulf exceed toxic levels to fish by 1700%.

One specific sodium salt ingredient called Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) in more than 90% of imported packaged shrimp and seafood is also clearly something of great concern, especially since it's also used in detergents, antifreeze and flame retardants.

Calculate the mercury content in you fish.

Marco Torres
is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.  


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