If your definition of a great meal includes raw pieces of fresh seafood sitting atop little bundles of rice, read on. While sushi is generally a healthy dining choice (fish being one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids), we need to pay attention to the oceans that supply our sushi bars with their fresh catch. Why? Recent news indicates the depletion of many fish stocks around the world, as well as high levels of contaminants (such as mercury and PCBs) in certain species. If we want to have a good variety of seafood to choose from in the future, it helps to know which types of fish continue to be plentiful and safe to eat.
Based on the sushi pocket guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Environmental Defense Fund, here are some of the most common species used for sushi and their status.
Top 7 Sushi Choices – To Eat or Not To Eat
- Hon Maguro (bluefin tuna), Maguro (yellowfin or bigeye tuna), or Toro (tuna belly): Listed as a species to avoid. Bluefin tuna is severely overfished and contains high levels of mercury, while yellowfin tuna is caught in a way that harms other ocean life. Instead, request local albacore tuna (Shiro Maguro) caught in Hawaii or British Columbia.
- Sake (salmon): The guide suggests avoiding farmed salmon (most of which is Atlantic salmon). Farmed salmon contains high levels of PCBs and dioxins, and salmon farmers may use pesticides or antibiotics to control disease outbreaks. For your sushi, ask for wild-caught salmon from Alaska.
- Hamachi (yellowtail): Listed as a species to avoid. Most yellowtail on the US market comes from fish farms in Japan, where there are serious concerns about diseases and pollution.
- Unagi (freshwater eels): Listed as a species to avoid. Instead of raising the eels from eggs, eel farms (which have problems with diseases and pollution) catch young eels from the wild, a practice that threatens vulnerable wild populations. In addition, eels are carnivores, so a farmed eel will consume up to twice its own weight in wild-caught fish, thereby putting further pressure on wild fish supply.
- Ebi (shrimp or prawn): Most shrimp on the US market is imported from overseas, where regulations are usually slack or not enforced. Fisheries have large amounts of bycatch that are wasted, and shrimp farms abroad have destroyed many ecologically vulnerable coastal areas. At the sushi bar, choose spot prawns from British Columbia (often called Amaebi), pink prawn from Oregon, or shrimp farmed in the US.
- Ikura (salmon roe): Choose only roe from wild-caught salmon from Alaska and avoid roe from farmed salmon.
- Uni (sea urchin): Avoid uni harvested from Maine, where the stocks are low and the harvesting process can harm the ocean floor. Instead, look for uni harvested from Canada, where populations are fairly healthy and the harvest is done mostly by hand.
The Bottom Line
Great seafood can be guilt-free. It is possible to continue enjoying sushi if you become an educated consumer who knows your options.