"FISH" The Good... The Bad And The Ethics Of Healthy Eating? 

By Ange Fonce

We are often told fish is good for us... it is low in saturated fat... high in protein and a good source of iodine... oily fish is rich in “Omega-3 fatty acids” and is a good source of vitamins A and D. 

Yet  there are some serious "environmental" and "ethical" concerns not only with preserving “sustainable” fish stocks... there are also the concerns... that more and more fish is “contaminated” with “mercury” or other “harmful chemicals”...  and that predatory commercial fishing methods are stripping the oceans of fish... killing sea birds... dolphins and turtles and destroying coral reefs. 

Let us investigate the Benefits and Risks of eating Fish...

Evidence shows that eating two or three meals of oily fish a week lowers your risk of “heart disease.”

Fish at the top of the food chain such as swordfish... marlin and shark... could contain “mercury” at levels that harm infants and small children. 

These species are also least likely to be “harvested sustainably”... especially when it comes to Sharks who have suffered a massive population drop to over fishing.

There are plenty of fish species... both fresh and processed that are good for you and are “harvested sustainably.”

These are some of the “important health benefits” you get from the “Omega-3 fatty acids”... EPA and DHA found in fish.

Heart Health... 

There is now strong evidence that eating fish can reduce your risk of “heart disease”... oily fish in particular is a good source of “Omega-3 fatty acids” and eating it regularly can reduce your chances of a fatal heart attack by 25% or more... many Heart Foundations recommend you eat two or three servings of oily fish a week. 

Smarter Brains... 

There is evidence that “Omega-3s” are good for the “brain development” of infants... even before they are born.... “Omega 3s” from fish in the mothers diet cross the placenta and infants breastfed by mothers who regularly eat “oily fish” or take “fish oil supplements” appear to develop better “visual function”... which is an indicator of improved “brain development.” 

There is also a growing body of evidence that suggests EPA and DHA may decrease the risk of “cognitive impairment” and dementia as you get older. 

Wider Benefits...  

Other potential health benefits from eating fish have been suggested but the evidence is not as strong... these include lowering the risk of “rheumatoid arthritis” and less convincingly... depression and asthma.

The Downside of eating Fish...

Unfortunately fish... especially “oily fish” can contain low levels of “highly toxic pollutants” and “farmed fish” can be contaminated by “antibiotics” and other chemicals used to control diseases... the toxins of greatest concern are “mercury” and PCBs.


This “highly toxic metal” can affect “brain development” in children... even at very low levels... it is found in small quantities in seawater and it accumulates as “methyl mercury” the most “toxic” form of mercury in the flesh of long lived fish at the top of the food chain... such as swordfish... marlin... shark and some species of tuna. 

The New York City Health Department when conducting research on eating fish... analysed blood samples for mercury and other heavy metals and found significantly higher levels in people who ate more fish. 

Most Health Authorities advise pregnant women... women intending to become pregnant and children under 16 to limit shark... marlin or swordfish intake to no more than one serving per fortnight and the rest of us should have no more than one portion a week... these species are also to be “avoided” because they are not likely to be “harvested sustainably.” 

As a rule... small fish such as Mackerel ... Lake Trout...Sardines and Pilchards are good for small children and pregnant women... and high in “Omega 3s.”

PCBs and Dioxins... 

These chemicals come from "industrial pollution" and are a known cause of cancer and may be associated with other health risks as well... they are in many foods and not just fish. 

In the US... beef... chicken and pork are the biggest food sources of PCBs and dioxins that run at 34% in these meats... while fish and shellfish account for only 9%. 

In Australia... dioxin levels in fish appear to be low... yet questions have been raised about dioxin and PCB levels in imported fish.

Chemicals are used in “aquaculture”... fish farmers use “antibiotics” and other chemicals to prevent disease and parasite infestations. 

Food Standards Australia New Zealand... FSANZ... has tested for chemical residues in both domestic and imported farmed fish... the tests found the “fungicide malachite green” in 16% of domestically farmed fish and 17% of imported farmed fish... testing by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service... AQIS... found the “antibiotic” nitrofuran in some imported prawns. 

Fishing Sustainably...

Worldwide... the demand for wild fish is now greater than the ocean can supply... southern blue fin tuna was once cheap and plentiful enough to go into canned tuna... it has now become an expensive rarity... there are two main ways of looking at “sustainability”...

First... is the fish stock sustainable? 

Second... does the fishing method cause environmental damage?

Fishing Methods...

All fishing has an “environmental impact”... and some methods can be particularly “destructive” of fish stocks and other wildlife... non selective fishing gear may catch and kill immature fish and unwanted species thrown away as “by catch”... dolphins... turtles and sea birds are often “vulnerable” or “endangered species”... become entangled in nets and killed. 

Lost or abandoned fishing gear continues to catch fish and other marine life until it falls apart... a process that can take many years... two methods are of particular concern...

Drag Net Trawling... 

In this widely used fishing method... nets are towed behind a boat and dragged along the ocean floor... drag net trawling can damage the seabed destroying marine life and habitats on which the fish depend for food. 

Drag net trawling accounts for about 50% of the fish wasted as by catch.

Long Line Trawling...

Drifting long lines packed with hooks are used to catch tuna... marlin... swordfish and sharks... and a main line can be a staggering 10km...80km long... floats on or near the ocean surface... along this main line there are numerous branch lines with baited hooks. 

There is concern about the impact on dolphins... whales and turtles... as well as endangered seabirds such as albatross. 

Unfortunately “dolphin safe” or “dolphin friendly” claims on fish products mean very little... there is no universal and “independent verification” of such claims... undoubtedly some companies try to do the right thing... yet there is no guarantee that such claims are true!

Fish Farming...

Basically a fish farm  is “Aquaculture” in shoreline and inland waters and is a big industry now world wide. 

Snapper... barramundi... southern blue fin tuna... mulloway... cod... Atlantic salmon... trout and now even sturgeon... which produces caviar are grown in sea cages... while prawns and shrimps are grown in salt water ponds built in wetlands... this might seem to be the answer to the problem of “sustainability”... yet fish farming raises “environmental issues” of its own.

Farmed fish are more crowded than in the wild and therefore more susceptible to “disease”... and so “antibiotics” and other “chemicals” are used to control “disease outbreaks” and diseases can spread to native fish stocks... farmed fish can escape from sea cages... and Atlantic salmon are voracious predators and can wreak havoc on native fish stocks... dissolved and solid fish waste from sea cages can “pollute” coastal waterways. 

Sea cage fish are fed a diet that uses “wild fish”... such as sardines and mackerel to produce fishmeal... it takes 2... 4kg of “wild fish” to produce 1kg of farmed Atlantic salmon... it would seem more “responsible” to eat the sardines and mackerel instead... as they are better sources of “Omega 3s” than salmon.

Raising fish such as prawns... salmon and other species in fully enclosed tanks or ponds seems to be preferable as the output of waste materials can be controlled... these operations can cause “environmental degradation” through clearing and destruction of wetlands... yet with appropriate care and expertise for the “natural environment”...  fish farms can be ecologically designed and sustainably operated.

Fresh... Frozen or Canned Fish?

When you are buying fish... what do you choose? 

Which fish give you the most “Omega 3s” and least “toxic chemicals” while coming from a sustainable fishery? 

Fresh Fish...

Fresh fish are best for flavour and texture... except when they are really “frozen fish” that have been “thawed for your convenience”.

Swordfish is an excellent source of “Omega 3s”... yet it is best avoided because of its relatively high “mercury” content and doubts that it has being “sustainably harvested”... Atlantic salmon is a good choice if “aquaculture” does not worry you for “environmental” or other reasons.

Frozen Fish...

Packaged frozen fish is a convenient standby that is quick and easy to prepare... again Atlantic salmon is the best choice for “Omega 3s”... yet if it is frozen it might have been harvested from sea cages which can have “negative effects” on the environment. 

Canned Fish...

A can of red salmon... herring... sardines and mackerel are outstanding for “Omega 3s”... these small fish from northern waters can be “harvested sustainably” because they are fast growing and low in the food chain. 

Canned Pacific salmon is also a good source of “Omega 3s”... also called red or pink salmon... these fish are different species from Atlantic salmon... they are harvested from the wild using nets... the Marine Stewardship Council has certified Alaskan and not the Canadian Pacific salmon fisheries... and some brands of canned salmon carry that logo.

Carbon Footprint...

Most canned fish comes from the other side of the world... raising the issue of “food miles”... and preserving food in cans uses less energy and creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than freezing... it takes “more energy” to make the can than the cardboard packaging... and frozen foods require more energy for “processing” and “distribution.”

Labels and Logos...

What fish is that?

Labels on fish can be confusing... without this information you cannot be sure what “species of fish” you are buying and it is even less likely you will be able to find out “how it was caught”... when you are buying whole fish you might at least have an idea of what you are getting... and fish fillets can be a complete mystery. 

Many retailers are now “legally required” to display the “country of origin”... yet this can be so vague as to be almost meaningless... such as prawns labelled as coming from China... Vietnam or Thailand. 

Manufacturers of “canned” and “frozen fish” can also hide behind the catch all.., “made from local and imported ingredients.”


Marine Stewardship Council 

This international organisation has developed standards for “sustainable fishing” which are published on its website... it has “certified sustainable fisheries” in most parts of the world... its logo on canned or frozen fish is a “good indication” that the product came from a “sustainable fishery.”

So there you have a quick run down on fish... “eating healthy” is not just about eating good food... it is also about the "ethics" of what you are putting into your body too!

Take care of your Health and Fitness. 

You have the power!

Thank you... and may you enjoy a Prosperous and Dynamic week ahead!

Yours Sincerely

Ange is an  Author.. Speaker... and International Peak Performance Psycho Dynamic Coach... and Counselling Psychologist who works with men... and women who desire to develop themselves and their relationships to become Dynamic Lifers from around the World!


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