Eating fish is a smart choice. It's a lean protein with great health benefits. But sometimes fish can be bad for you, and sometimes it's bad for the environment. Seafood can be contaminated with high amounts of mercury and PCBs, causing ill health effects. And some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life.

When you're at the store or ordering in a restaurant, how do you know which seafood to choose? It’s not as confusing as it might seem. Follow these eight basic rules to make smart seafood shopping choices that are good for your health and the health of our oceans. For more help selecting fish, consult the shopping guides posted at the Checkout Counter: Smart Shopper's Guide to America's Five Favorite Fish and Here's the Catch.

 

* Eat lower on the food chain

Smaller fish tend to be more plentiful and better for your health because they contain less mercury. Great small seafood choices include squid, oysters, mackerel, sardines and mussels.

* Know where fish is from

The health of different species varies by region. Alaskan seafood such as salmon and halibut, when caught in sustainable ways, is generally good for you and the environment.

* Buy American

American seafood isn't perfect, but the U.S. variety of a particular type of fish is generally better than its imported counterpart because this country has stricter fishing and farming standards than do other parts of the world.

* Buy wild

Given current issues with the environmental impact of fish farming, a wild-caught fish is almost always better than a farmed fish of the same variety for your health and the environment.

* Know how it's caught

There are more and less sustainable methods for harvesting fish. Know what method was used to catch the fish you choose to eat. Hook and line is a low-impact method of fishing that does no damage to the seafloor and lets fishermen throw back unwanted species, usually in time for them to survive. Intelligently designed traps are also good since they have doors that allow young fish to escape. To learn more about which methods are good and which are not, read Here's the Catch.

* Eat local

You're usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country or another part of the world, unless that species has been depleted in local waters. Even out of season, the local fish that has been frozen is preferable, since fresh fish must be transported by air, the most energy-intensive method of shipping.

* Buy from trusted retailers

Certain businesses have set higher standards for the seafood they sell in their stores, and many have pledged to create long-term sustainable seafood plans. Find guides to good retailers at the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood Solutions and Greenpeace.

* Look for the blue sticker

The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with a MSC-certified sticker like the one shown here.

Learn More: 

Checkout Counter: Smart Shopper's Guide to America's Five Favorite Fish

Here's the Catch

Label Lookup: Fish Labels

Monterey Bay Aquarium provides extensive lists with detailed information on sustainability by species and geography.

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