Safe Fish To Eat

by Natalie on April 21, 2011

By nature, fish are a healthy food to consume. They are a great source of lean protein and several types are high in omega 3 fatty acids. However, many of the waters in which they live contain harmful substances from industrial run-off. These substances, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), get absorbed by the fish and then absorbed by us when we eat the fish. PCB’s are especially of concern as they may be linked to breast cancer.

PCB’s and Breast Cancer

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) are highly toxic industrial compounds once used in plasticisers, adhesives, paints and various oils. The use of these chemicals has been banned since 1977 but they are very slow to degrade and are still showing up in our environment. PCB’s gather in the sediments at the bottom of our waterways and then get absorbed by fish.

According the to the World Cancer Research Fund Second Expert Report on cancer prevention, limited evidence suggests that PCB’s may alter estrogen levels and contribute to breast cancer risk.

Another cause for concern, if you are breast feeding, PCB’s can also accumulate in human milk and can be passed to the infant.

An important thing to remember is that PCB’s are not highly toxic with a single dose but rather over long periods of time with consistent exposure to highly contaminated fish.

As per the Environmental Defense Fund, fish with high level of contaminants (PCB’s and other chemicals) are:

  • bluefin tuna,
  • walleye,
  • king mackerel,
  • marlin,
  • eel,
  • bluefish,
  • weakfish,
  • shark, and
  • swordfish.

These fish should be AVOIDED until research proves otherwise.

Choosing the Right Fish

Avoiding chemical contaminants is a very important reason for being selective with your fish, but there are also other reasons to be selective. There are some critical environmental issues surrounding our fish population. Many of our waters are being over fished to the point of extinction. The way they are being fished can have a negative impact too. Certain methods of commercial fishing destroy ecological habitats. As consumers it is our responsibility to select fish that has the least impact on the environment.

I know it seems like a lot of fuss to think about all these issues but luckily there are some amazing organizations out there helping us make these decisions.

*Safe Fish To Eat (based on chemical and environmental concerns)

  • Farmed U.S Catfish
  • Pacific Cod (Alaska Longline)
  • Pacific Halibut
  • U.S Atlantic MahiMahi (troll/pole)
  • Alaskan or Canadian Black Cod
  • Wild Alaskan Salmon
  • Canned Sockeye or Pink salmon
  • U.S Sardines
  • Farmed Striped Bass
  • U.S Tilapia
  • Farmed Rainbow Trout
  • Albacore Tuna from U.S or Canada
  • Skipjack Tuna (pole/troll)

*per Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector pocket guide


The Monterey Bay Aquarium has an excellent seafood program called Seafood Watch that is dedicated to educating consumers on sustainable seafood. They offer free downloadable safe seafood pocket guides to help you make the right choices. They just updated their guides in January of this year. I keep one in my wallet at all times and find it extremely helpful! Sometimes I feel like a dork pulling it out but I feel good knowing that I am making the right decisions. I just found out they have a sushi guide which I am super excited about.

The Environmental Defense Fund website has some excellent resources as well. Here you will find more information related to the chemicals found in our fish but they also address sustainability.

Tomorrow is EARTH DAY. An easy way to contribute is to choose sustainable seafood. Print out the pocket guide and use it before buying any fish.

Question: Do you use a seafood pocket guide? If yes what has been your experience with it? Leave a comment in the comments section.




World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research: The Second Expert Report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer, 2007.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch: Seafood Recommendations.

Environmental Defense Fund: PCBs in Fish and Shellfish.


Photo By: Michael Malz

Marilyn April 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Sad but true, we must be so careful. i love fish, but I think of its safety every time I buy it. I always buy wild caught from Alaska if i can. Costco has great cod. Trader Joes also has good fish.

Natalie April 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Costco also sells canned wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon which is wonderful. Thank you for caring about fish safety and sustainability.

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